Parents suck, pass it on

A dog is painted as a baby giant panda at Dahe Mincui Park in Zhengzhou, Henan Province of China.

Black-and-white minstrel: Chinese mothers might have a bit to answer for if this dog, painted as a panda, is anything to go by.

Facebook’s most-shared list for US news in 2011 is a mix of the quirky, awe-inspiring and shocking. It’s the same sort of material we’ve seen shared at ninemsn this year: tsunami pictures, loyal dogs, tributes to Steve Jobs, stories about Facebook and bizarre weather events.

What we have not seen in our study of ninemsn sharing, but which dominates the Facebook list, are parenting stories. Articles about kids, and how to raise them, make up 20 percent of the list. This is double the showing of the next three most popular subjects: Steve Jobs, Japan tsunami and conjecture over a 13th zodiac sign (which each appear three times).

Topping the list at 260,000 shares is a series of before-and-after satellite shots of the area affected by the Japanese tsunami from The New York Times website. It’s a mesmerising collection that brings home the scale of the tsunami’s destruction and provokes awe – awe of nature’s power – which we know from Milkman and Berger’s New York Times study is a key driver of sharing.

The second-placed article, What teachers want to tell parents, was a surprise to us but teacher Ron Clark’s wide-ranging attack on the parents of America’s school-going youth obviously hit a nerve.  We were unable to get an accurate read of any of CNN’s stories  in this list, as the CNN share count seems to have been reset, but it appears to have been shared between 240,000-255,000 times. Lines like this obviously lit up the Facebook community: “If you don’t want your child to end up 25 and jobless, sitting on your couch eating potato chips, then stop making excuses for why they aren’t succeeding.”

Rounding out the top five were a story about a new zodiac sign that wasn’t: No, your zodiac sign hasn’t changed (CNN); a video clip of a bride and her father dancing (Yahoo), and another social parenting commentary – Parents, don’t dress your girls like tramps – by CNN’s gay columnist LZ Granderson, the only author to get two stories into the Top 40.

As social news source, CNN seems to have created a bankable sharing formula in hitting parents where it hurts. Also from CNN is a collective head-knock for deadbeat dads in A father’s day wish:  Dads, wake the hell up! and a broadside at mommies and daddies who let their kids muck up in public – Permissive parents: curb your brats – also by Granderson.

We think part of the reason these stories have shared so well is they’re finding an enthusiastic audience in non-parents as well as parents. Granderson, in particular, is tapping into that tension between parents, who are sure the outside world has no idea how difficult it is bringing up children today, and non-parents who can’t believe how selfish, permissive and painful parents of young kids can be, particularly in restaurants and on planes and other public transport. We know arousal is a sharing trigger and there’s much in these two articles to fire up about.

The teachers v parents debate is set up in the same way with ready-made networks for sharing on both sides. It’s likely a majority of teachers who read Ron Clark’s commentary felt compelled to share it. As Clark is a favourite of Oprah Winfrey, the Oprah factor possibly also exerted a sharing effect. The deadbeat dads piece comes from a stay-at-home father railing against his work-a-day colleagues who don’t spend enough time with their kids. It’s easy to see how this struck a chord with stay-at-home mothers who must have felt compelled to share it with each other and their partners.

Parenting seems like a bigger deal in the US – the home of “mommy blogging” – than it is Australia. Witness the Chinese “Tiger Mom” controversy, another notable inclusion on the list at No.14 (Why Chinese mothers are superior – Wall Street Journal). Yale law professor Amy Chua pulled back the curtain on a style of performance-driven parenting that demands straight As and total dedication to schoolwork (no school musicals or play dates for these kids). It’s a confronting take on raising children that brushes against that most sensitive topic in US public discourse: race.

Racial stereotyping pops up further down the list in position 39.  Shared just a little more than a list of Steve Jobs’s patents and slightly less than an article about people in China dyeing their dogs to resemble pandas and tigers is an open letter from professional basketballer Grant Hill. Hill and teammates had been called “Uncle Toms” by a competitor, Jalen Rose, in a documentary on ESPN. Even without background on the issue or interest in basketball, Hill’s response is a fascinating insight into class and race in America. Rose must have felt lower than a snake’s duodenum by the time he’d finished reading it.

Because this Facebook list features live content, its publication has changed the original order of the Top 40 as the list itself has been shared and new people have continued to discover and share its entries. If it were reassembled now, the father-daughter wedding dance would be topping the chart at 500,000-plus shares.

If the list included Australian news stories, ninemsn,, the ABC and most probably Yahoo7 and the Fairfax sites would have scored entries in the top 40 (No.40, the Jobs patents article, has 28,000 shares). We’ve also received word from Gary Kemble that the ABC’s tsunami photos were shared more than 500,000 times on Facebook, an incredible result.

In related news, Share Wars is about to start producing lists of its own. From tomorrow, we will publish the most-shared stories overnight (Australian time) from US and UK news sites as tracked by the Likeable Engine. Share Wars developer Dom Filipovic has been tweaking the Engine during the past couple of weeks and it’s turning out some promising results. We hope you find the updates useful.


Andrew Hunter

About Andrew Hunter

Andrew Hunter is Editor-in-Chief of Microsoft's MSN. Twitter: @Huntzie

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