One of the biggest challenges of the modern news era is actually getting people to read a post.
In many cases, news consumption these days seems less relevant than the associated debate, with a headline alone often being enough to spark social media dispute. But how often do people debate an issue, related to an article, without ever actually reading it? And when people do share content without engaging with the full context, how does that impact subsequent debate?
Arguably, this has a negative impact on the related discourse – but how can you fix it? How can you ensure that each person is reading content before they discuss it?
Twitter’s looking to take a new approach on this front.
Sharing an article can spark conversation, so you may want to read it before you Tweet it.
To help promote informed discussion, we’re testing a new prompt on Android –– when you Retweet an article that you haven’t opened on Twitter, we may ask if you’d like to open it first.
— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) June 10, 2020
As explained by Twitter product chief Kayvon Beykpour:
“It’s easy for links/articles to go viral on Twitter. This can be powerful but sometimes dangerous, especially if people haven’t read the content they’re spreading. This feature (on Android for now) encourages people to read a linked article prior to Retweeting it.”
Here’s what it looks like in practice:
That could be a good way to at least slow the spread of misinformation, by prompting further engagement with the full context, as opposed to biting on the headline.
And definitely, this is a problem – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen comments on Social Media Today posts which ask questions that are answered within the post itself. And that’s a very minor example – as Beykpour notes, such process can be dangerous when people share false or misleading reports, without understanding what, exactly, it is that they’re sharing.
Social platforms have actually been trying to solve this problem for years.
As per Slate:
“There’s a very weak relationship between scroll depth and sharing. [In general] articles that get a lot of tweets don’t necessarily get read very deeply. Articles that get read deeply aren’t necessarily generating a lot of tweets.”
In 2016, Facebook added a new measure to address this by announcing a News Feed algorithm update to factor in time spent reading content, after clicking on a link.
As per Facebook:
“We’re adding another factor to News Feed ranking so that we will now predict how long you spend looking at an article in the Facebook mobile browser or an Instant Article after you have clicked through from News Feed. This update to ranking will take into account how likely you are to click on an article and then spend time reading it.”
So if you spend less time reading something, Facebook’s less likely to see that as an indicator of engagement, even if you then go to share it. That could limit the reach of your post – whereas if you read the whole article, then share it, the algorithm will see that it’s likely more relevant.
Read time has become the main focus of this movement, but Twitter, instead, is looking to prompt awareness of such before you tap on share. Will that be more effective – or simply more annoying?
Free-speech platform Gab had an opinion on the announcement:
Is that how people will see it? Will it be an issue that slows sharing?
I mean, that’s kind of the point, Twitter wants to put some friction into the process of sharing updates in order to stop the rapid amplification of content that people haven’t read. And that’s good, it’s a good initiative, but it’ll be interesting to see how users respond, and whether, indeed, they see it as a step too far in limiting their activity.
But people should read the full context of what they share, they should understand what it is they’re amplifying. And while it may be a small addition, it could have a big effect.
Maybe, simply by prompting a moment of consideration, people will re-think such, reducing inflammatory argument.
We’ll have to wait and see what happens in the live environment.
The new sharing prompts are now live on Android.