Not long ago, I tweeted a link to a very long story. Within 60 seconds, it received three retweets. Since the article would have taken at least 10 minutes to read, it is highly likely that those who retweeted it did not read it.
This phenomenon is not limited to Twitter. A couple of recent articles revealed some interesting data about what people really do online.
From Time magazine in early March: “A stunning 55% [of those who clicked into an article] spent fewer than 15 seconds actively on a page. [emphasis theirs] The stats get a little better if you filter purely for article pages, but even then one in every three visitors spend [sic] less than 15 seconds reading articles they land on.”
Analysis of 10,000 articles shared on social media “found that there is no relationship whatsoever between the amount a piece of content is shared and the amount of attention an average reader will give that content.”
A Slate article noted that about 5% to 10% of those who open an article leave it immediately, and 38% of people who click on it “bounce” [leave it] before the end of the first paragraph.
At a few hundred words into the article, about half of the remaining readers have left, and very few of the rest make it through to the end.
The amount of scrolling can also be tracked. “There’s a very weak relationship between scroll depth and sharing. Both at Slate and across the Web, 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.”
On April Fools’ Day, NPR published a story called “Why Doesn’t America Read Anymore?” There was no article [emphasis mine]—only the headline and an explanation of the fact that they wanted to see if people would comment anyway. They were not disappointed as many brainless comments rolled in. This Gawker post has the best of them.
The Washington Post noted that in addition to diminishing attention spans, we are developing into a nation of superficial readers. “It’s like your eyes are passing over the words but you’re not taking in what they say,” said a graduate student in creative writing.
Attempting to stay with the trend, last week both the Associated Press and Reuters directed their reporters to limit stories to fewer than 500 words.
If anyone is still reading this, what it means is that I should not feel slighted that people are retweeting me without necessarily reading what I so carefully and lovingly select for dissemination.
It’s not me. It’s you.
PS: I am aware that some people retweet things and plan to read them later. But how do they know that what they have retweeted is worthy? Or does it matter?
Skeptical Scalpel is a retired surgeon and was a surgical department chairman and residency program director for many years. He is board-certified in general surgery and critical care and has re-certified in both several times. He blogs at SkepticalScalpel.blogspot.com and tweets as @SkepticScalpel.