Twitter users share a large number of URLs on the platform, but 59% of those URLs are never clicked on, according to a new collaborative study conducted by Microsoft and Columbia University researchers. What’s strange is that even people who share them do not click on them.

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Majority of shared links are not clicked

The researchers considered over one month of data for the study, including 2.8 million shares on Twitter encompassing shared links to the BBC, The New York Times, the Huffington Post and Fox News. The study is the first of its kind, according to the study’s authors, and has been published on an open-access platform.

“There seems to be vastly more niche content that users are willing to mention in Twitter than . . . content that they are actually willing to click on,” the study says.

A small group of “blockbuster” articles grabbed the bulk of actual clicks generated on the platform, and about 90% of Twitter clicks came from merely 9% of the shared links.

“People are more willing to share an article than read it,” said Arnaud Legout, co-author of the study. “This is typical of modern information consumption. People form an opinion based on a summary, or a summary of summaries, without making the effort to go deeper.”

Implications for Twitter and publishers

The other important finding was that though Twitter has a good reputation as a “live” platform, clicks have a consistent “long tail,” as tweets continue to generate a steady drip of shares and clicks even after the initial 24-hour stage. This has implications for publishers and for Twitter and other social media platforms.

Headlines generate shares and encourage clicks, and for this reason, they are king. It is for this reason that some outlets aim for the lowest common denominator with so-called “clickbait” headlines. However, the study could not find any consistent pattern to the few links that became “blockbusters.”

Exaggerated headlines on the social media could be self-defeating, the study suggests. Social shares could be boosted by sensational or misleading headlines, but not for actual readers trying to curate their information intake. The implications for Twitter itself are a bit grimmer.

It is clear that the news impact and social sharing do not have that much direct connection, as had been widely assumed until now. Also the Chicago Tribune argues that an environment of uninformed debate, bile, hoaxing and trolling gets created because of the predominance of shallow and performative sharing.

Many observers believe that the high-velocity, low content vibe scares off new Twitter users.