Thursday, June 23, 2016

Will you share this without clicking?

Thanks to Megan Blauvelt Heuer who shared (on ili-l) a Washington Post story:
Dewey, C. (2016, ). 6 in 10 of you will share this link without reading it, a new, depressing study says. Washington Post.
I felt I ought to, ahem, read the story before sharing it here. It highlights a spoof article in Science Post in which only the first paragraph was actual meaningful text, but which nevertheless was shared widely, often by people who evidently hadn't realised most of the article was "ipsem lorum" (meaningless filler text in latin). Dewey then goes on the discuss findings in an ACM paper. Since the very topic of the article was "sharing without reading" I thought I should at least skim this article too.

Interestingly, I would say that, whilst Dewey doubtless had read the paper, I would not say that she gives an unbiased picture of its message. It is late at night and I haven't read the stats properly, but I think the ACM paper compared the number of shares of a URL (on Twitter) with the number of times the URL itself was clicked. Although this implies that some people shared without clicking or reading, it does not actually make that claim. However (as the title of her article implies) Dewey's focus is on people who share links without having clicked them themselves, which she sees as part of the "oft-demoralizing cesspool that is Internet culture" (she also mentions "the utter lack of intelligent online discourse around any remotely complicated, controversial topic").

In fact this could make it an interesting article for information literacy discussion from several angles: how people treat spoof articles; the issue of sharing web links that you haven't investigated at all; the way in which mass media simplify and possibly distort the findings of scientic papers.

It did make me reflect: I do share items on this blog that I haven't read in full (you may be shocked to learn) but I have always checked the link and skimmed enough of it to tell whether I think it is worth looking at. However, I may sometimes share a link on Twitter without reading it, if it's from someone I trust and I think my followers might find it interesting. I would imagine that some people might share my tweets of these blog posts similarly (do reply if you have any comments on this - though bear in mind that I moderate comments - as otherwise I have loads of spam - so there will be a delay before it appears).
Photo by Sheila Webber:  trees, June 2016


Schlindwein said...

I wonder about the value and significance of altmetrics for scientific articles.

Michael Shochet said...

I know I am a month late to the party, but I just encountered this article recently through it being shared on Facebook. I did read the ACM study and was surprised to find that despite the WP post headline claiming that 6 in 10 people share articles without having read them, the ACM study says absolutely nothing of the sort. What the study does say is that 59% of the links that were tweeted where not clicked on by any of the tweeters followers. There is no way of knowing whether the original tweeter had looked at the article before tweeting it or not.

This is a case of a reporter, or maybe more of a blogger working under the WP umbrella, not understanding how to read a technical study. So, it is better suited, I think, as an example where reading the actual study is important.

I even followed up with the author who was quoted in the WP in a way that seemed to back up her headline, and he confirmed that my interpretation was correct.

This isn't to say that people are not sharing without reading the article first. It is just that the methodology used in the ACM paper is not able to address that question.