What was the most shared word of 2015?

Were you appalled by the executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran or did you feel justice was done?

Are you for or against the death penalty?

These are not questions that leave us on the fence.

One way or the other, Australians cared deeply about the fate of their two countrymen put to death for drug smuggling in Indonesia last year. That much is obvious in the Share Wars analysis of the most-shared stories for 2015.

When people feel strongly about something, they tend to share news about it. And our data shows that “Bali” was the most shareable word in news last year.

We’ve seen before that Teaming, the concept of sharing news as an expression of values and judgment, is the most powerful motivation in the social distribution of news. Analysis here on this blog and in our book ‘All Your Friends Like This – How Social Networks Took Over News’ found that Teaming accounted for more than 60% of sharing in 2012.

And so it has proven again in 2015. Sharers taking a stand was the biggest factor shaping the Top 15 most-shareable headline words.

The Choppergate scandal, the Paris attacks, climate change, shark news (including Mick Fanning’s encounter at Jeffreys Bay), the demise of Tony Abbott and rise of Malcolm Turnbull were all reflected in the list of the 15 most frequently occurring nouns in the headlines of shared stories in 2015:

  1. Bali
  2. Girl
  3. Bishop
  4. Tony
  5. Paris
  6. Health
  7. Turnbull
  8. Children
  9. Cancer
  10. Climate
  11. Dog
  12. Hospital
  13. Media
  14. Secret
  15. Shark

When we did a similar analysis in 2012, we used a smaller data set and slightly different methodology. But there is one word common to both lists, separated as they are by three years: ‘Girl’. The sharing power of girls reflects a mix of heart-warming stories about overcoming the odds, concerns over the raising of girls (and of boys, and the future of society), and girls as victims. The power of ‘Girl’ in sharing — and news in general — does not seem to have been lost on Hal’s team at Ninemsn, as the list of the most-shared headlines containing the word shows:

  1. Home-grown Derby girl to be town’s first Aboriginal doctor (SBS)
  2. Aboriginal girl who was told ‘black is ugly’ finally meets Frozen hero (Nine News)
  3. Maroubra locals adopt dumped baby girl to give her proper burial (Nine News)
  4. Firefighter attends graduation of girl he rescued 17 years ago (Nine News)
  5. US police officer buys iPad for little girl running lemonade stand (Nine News)
  6. Police to continue search for girl missing on NSW north coast (Nine News)
  7. Queensland man to be extradited to Victoria over alleged gang rape, abduction of teenage girl in Geelong (Nine News)
  8. Little girl commands six large hungry pit bulls like they are pups (Nine News)
  9. ‘Because I’m a man’: Boys react when asked to slap a girl in the street (Nine News)
  10. How a little girl with Down’s syndrome became a child model and social media sensation (Nine News)

Other words

Very early in the life of Share Wars we stumbled upon the fact that health issues were highly shared and this was reaffirmed in 2015 with ‘Health’, ‘Cancer’ and ‘Hospital’ featuring.

In 2012, ‘Facebook’ made the most-shared list. This time, the social network was represented to an extent by the word ‘Media’ which was mostly paired with the word social on the most-shared list. Because the word ‘Social’ also appeared on the least-shared list (in other contexts) it is duplicated and therefore “cancelled out”.

Regular readers will know that dogs outshare cats in news so the appearance of ‘Dog’ in the list is not surprising.

Interestingly, ‘Tony’ appeared in the new list but only ‘Abbott’ appeared in the 2012 list. This has something to do with our methodology and something to do with the rise of Junkee as a sharing force.

Junkee is one of the few news sources to use a subject’s full name in the homepage headline, which is the text that the Likeable Engine captures (as opposed to the article headline. To be absolutely accurate, Likeable records the text inside the title field on the homepage). For example, one of Junkee’s most-shared headlines for 2015 was: There’s A Giant Obama-Style Billboard Of Tony Abbott In Sydney That Reads “Hopeless”.

Inclusion of the subject’s first name in headlines was a trend that started appearing about 10 years ago to make stories index higher on search engine result pages. The logic went that most people searching for Tony Abbott would use both words, not just the surname. So news headlines changed. They became more instructive, less nuanced and longer.

Not that we’re accusing Junkee of being artless. They’ve developed a style of headline in Australia, inspired by the likes of Buzzfeed, that lets their readers and sharers feel like they’re in on “the joke”, part of the team. For example, ‘Someone Went And Photoshopped Giant Cats Into ‘Jurassic Park’ Because The Internet’ and ‘Tony Abbott Thinks Remote Aboriginal Communities Are “Lifestyle Choices” Because Of Course He Does’.

Junkee boss Tim Duggan says his team found that using the first name and surname of their arch villain increased “clickability”.

“In a way, it’s like when you use someone’s full name when they are trouble – it adds a bit of theatre,’ Duggan told Share Wars.

Duggan and team were also among sharing standouts throughout last year, landing two stories in the Top 10 most-shared list for 2015.

Most-shared stories of 2015*

Source Homepage headline Sharecount
1. News.com.au This could be the ‘deadliest massacre’ in history 290111
2. Junkee Today Is Also ‘St Gertrude’s Day’; Celebrate The Patron Saint Of Cats 263842
2a. SBS ‘Gillard rushed to hospital with schadenfreude’ 139225
3. News.com.au Waleed Aly hits out at ISIS over Paris attacks, call them weak 120584
4. News.com.au Snow in Cairo first time in 112 years 117084
5. 9News Johnny Depp visits sick Queensland kids in full Jack Sparrow garb 115579
6. 9News Breaking the cycle: Queensland university student adopts homeless, pregnant teenage cousin 110318
7. SMH ‘I’m kind of freaking out’ 101832
8. Junkee Someone Went And Photoshopped Giant Cats Into ‘Jurassic Park’ Because The Internet 99180
9. SMH ‘The day you meet me will be the worst day of your life’ 89680
10. ABC (7.30) Watch: The world’s first female male model 89235


It’s worth noting that article 2a. from SBS is a satirical story from SBS’s highly shared comedy news offering The Backburner. The two less descriptive headlines from the SMH are for stories about Gravity Payments boss Dan Price sacrificing his salary to pay his staff a bonus (‘I’m kind of freaking out’) and a doctor’s take on the treatment choices families face for seriously ill older people (‘The day you meet me will be the worst day of your life’).

Coming soon … the least shared words and the most newsworthy words of 2015.

A note on Methodology

The Likeable Engine tracks stories for five days so any shares a story has received after then will not be registered. Shares include Twitter tweets and retweets and Facebook Likes, Shares and Comments. The Likeable Engine stopped tracking tweets in December 2015 due to Twitter shutting down public access at this point.

We started with two lists: the most-shared 150,000 stories in 2015 and those stories with zero shares (about 490,000 stories). We then cleaned the data, removing duplicate headlines and static pages such as section landing pages or homepages.

The next step was to feed all headline words through sorting software (called Textstat) to find the most commonly appearing words from both lists. Then we took the top 300 words from each list and de-duplicated them, removing any word that appeared in both lists. This left us with the 15 nouns above.

Our list of sources is not exhaustive and regularly being updated. In 2015, the Likeable Engine tracked the sharing of 30 Australian news sources and some were only added part-way through the year. We are only just about to start tracking Mamamia, for example.

We are also working on a robust solution for tracking sharing on the Australian versions of international news brands such as The Guardian, The Daily Mail, Business Insider and Buzzfeed. Our problem with these types of publications is that they feature stories that have been “pre-loaded” with shares from the US and/or UK . The Likeable Engine does not distinguish a sharer’s geography because the data we retrieve from Facebook also does not.

Andrew Hunter

About Andrew Hunter

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

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