When sharing turns bad

Egypt sharing, Daily MailYou don’t often see this on the Share Wars engine.

The graph above shows one story dwarfing all others on the most shared list for the Daily Mail site last week.

It was a cracker of a yarn about a proposed law allowing Egyptian men to have sex with their wives up to six hours after they died – farewell sex, as it was described. Unfortunately for the Daily Mail, and The Huffington Post among others, the story was false.

The ninemsn news team had a look at the story on Friday, checked Twitter, and stayed the hell away (we had obese cats and penis drawings to worry about). But our colleagues at The Daily Telegraph went for it and landed a good sharing result, finishing with the seventh most-shared story in Australia as you can see below.

Share Wars Australian news Top 10, Monday 23-Sunday 29

  1. Australian senator teargassed in Malaysia (news.com.au)
  2. Chinese man dies after testicle squeeze (ninemsn)
  3. Mum finds penis drawing inside burger box (ninemsn)
  4. Sydney assault causes outrage in China (smh.com.au)
  5. Student challenges ruling on her HSC (smh.com.au)
  6. Mundine sentiment missing the mark (smh.com.au)
  7. Men ‘allowed to have sex’ with dead wives (Daily Telegraph)
  8. Animal activist agrees to be tortured (Herald Sun)
  9. Australian senator teargassed in Malaysia (news.com.au)
  10. Obese cat put in foster home (ninemsn)

Back on the top graph, you’ll notice a smaller mauve line tracking from about 24 hours after the Mail’s original Egypt story. That’s the Mail’s follow-up: Egypt’s plans for farewell intercourse ‘branded complete nonsense’. It lacks the original’s sharing juice, but evidently some Mail readers were determined to out the truth. (The origin of the story was traced to a supporter of deposed Egyptian PM Hosni Mubarak who appeared to have made it all up. See The Christian Science Monitor’s take here.)

Usually, grubby sex stories don’t share well. Most readers don’t want to be associated with this content even if they click on it in private.

But the sharing profile of the Mail’s original story is rare and instructive. Sharing in the realm of the Share Wars engine consists of Facebook likes and shares as well as comments. As you can see from the pie chart below, comments made up 67% of total shares for the Mail’s original story.



This is unusual. Averaging out the rest of the Mail’s Top 10 produces the type of breakdown we see across most news sites most of the time (see below). Some stories can generate more comments than shares or likes but they’re the exception.

DailyMail shares

Regular Share Wars readers would know we believe content that is shared is more valuable than content that isn’t.

Comments, however, are more like frictionless sharing, in which the audience doesn’t consciously share the story. They simply make a comment and this appears with a link in their friends’ Facebook feeds.

Putting Facebook sharing on a continuum, frictionless sharing sits at the left edge with social readers that automatically relay whichever story is clicked on. At the other end are Facebook shares, in which the act of sharing is explicit. Although bundled up under “Facebook sharing”, these are quite different actions driven by distinctly different content types.



From early observations, it appears the value of the content (at least to users and their networks) increases as you move away from the left edge and towards explicit or conscious sharing.

Many comments on the Mail’s original story were unsavoury and racist. The story was false and the journalism was sloppy. On this occasion, sharing was down near the frictionless zone and failed miserably as a measure of content value.

Andrew Hunter

About Andrew Hunter

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

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