Why we shared news of a big man’s departure

A cursory look at our database of the most-shared stories in Australia between March and June shows that people are sharing stories about death.

Most of these stories are about famous people dying because the deaths of average Joes don’t get written up unless they’re crime-related or unusual.

Michael Duncan

Michael Duncan ... news of his death spread by sharing.

The deaths of football legend Jim Stynes and Bee Gee Robin Gibb featured in the top 100 stories shared during this period. In the week Whitney Houston died, stories about her demise were widely shared.

And we’ve seen the same thing during the past week following the death of Green Mile actor Michael Clarke Duncan as you can see from the list below, our Top 10 most-shared list supplied to PR and media analysis site Influencing:

1. ‘Smoking healthier than gay marriage’ (The Age)

2. Sydney pound dogs facing death row (ninemsn)

3. Reith rewrites history to hide the shame of children overboard lie (The Age)

4. Green Mile star dead at 54 (smh.com.au)

5. Michael Clarke Duncan dies (Yahoo7 News)

6. US actor Michael Clarke Duncan dies (ninemsn)

7. ALAN JONES: Women are ‘destroying the joint’ (news.com.au)

8. Green Mile star dead (Brisbane Times)

9. THAT’S RICH: The secrets successful people have been keeping from you (news.com.au)

10. ‘Green Mile’ actor dead, aged 54 (news.com.au)

Research has found that people are less likely to share sad stories than happy ones. But our data shows readers are prone to sharing stories that force them to confront their own mortality even if these stories are sad.

Michael Duncan died young-ish (54) and The Green Mile was recent enough for most of the audience to recall and connect it with a time in their life that doesn’t feel too distant. For anyone in their 40s, 50s and 60s, there might well be a feeling of “There by the grace of God go I”.

It was the same with Jim Stynes, Robin Gibb and Whitney Houston. A fair percentage of the news readership could identify a time and a place in their lives when these people were in their prime. The desire to share was likely amplified by the emotional connection audiences had with these entertainers and their work at the time.

As the gentle giant wrongly executed in The Green Mile, Duncan made a lasting impact on cinema goers. This was one of the major sharing drivers when the man who breathed life into that role made his final exit.

But there’s an even bigger force at play. Sub-consciously, readers sharing these stories are thinking: if these stars could die now, then so could I.

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Andrew Hunter

About Andrew Hunter

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

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