News Limited zombies trample share data


The almost-right angle profiles are zombies (Likeable Engine)

We have noticed something weird with sharing figures coming out of News Limited sites. Since February the share count on individual articles has become so unreliable we have had to discount the data.

Publications affected include, the Courier Mail, Herald Sun and Daily Telegraph.

The problem became apparent when we noticed that the “sharing curve” – the way shares accumulate to the stories over time – for some stories on these sites had developed a distinctly zombie-like flavour.

Zombies are the bane of a Share Warrior’s life. These unnatural stories pop up from the grave with fully loaded share counts despite having been published months or years before the collection period.

Their sharing curves are close to right angles (see graphic) – there is no organic accumulation of shares in the period.

Zombies can and should be dispatched without mercy. They sully the data.

As well as having zombie profiles, the problematic stories from News Limited sites seemed to have unrealistically big sharing numbers. For example, a story about NASA working with games developers received more than 9000 shares on Facebook. That would put it in the sharing hall of fame.

Every shred of the Share Wars collective knowledge said that was wrong. Spiders eating birds? Yes. NASA and developers? Minor sharing play. Kids stuff.

The mystery deepened when we saw that some stories from the sources had EXACTLY THE SAME SHARE COUNTS.

Here is a breakdown of some of the most shared stories on the Courier Mail from last week:

Facebook total
Lesson learned: Teachers use Twitter too
NASA hosts computer game developer conference to inspire explorers
The most expensive gadgets on the web
Toyota unveils self-leaning i-Road car
Mobile phone safety ‘waste of money’
Jobs website’s war on horrible bosses
Non-lethal rounds used to stop gunman in Queen Street mall siege
Amazing photograph shows officer calm in the face of danger …


The first seven stories have nearly the same share count which is steadily increasing over time.

Not only that, but these stories have a share count more than double the first legitimately shared story, and nearly nine times higher than the second one.

The astute observer will note that the Courier Mail is actually reporting to us what we expect. If you visit any of the first seven articles and look at the sharing toolbar, you’ll note that it looks like the article has not been shared at all.


However, the data that we are getting directly from Facebook contradicts this. Here is how we tested it:

Facebook has this simple page where you can provide any url, and it will give you the code that shows how many shares the page has received.

We took two random stories from the first seven and found that they have EXACTLY THE SAME SHARE COUNTs.

Mobile phone safety:

News sharecounts




New Toyota car:

News sharecounts



So what’s going on here?


Dom Filipovic and Hal Crawford

Domagoj Filipovic

About Domagoj Filipovic

Domagoj Filipovic is Chief Technology Officer at cloud based video platform provider, Viocorp. Starting his career at ninemsn, he has been building software since 2004.

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