A quick glance through the daily newspapers or the evening news broadcasts sees this rule for all to see. We see death and destruction as reporters gleefully reveal the latest earthquake or murder. It seems that the more gruesome the news, the more the news industry scavenges over the remains.
What about social media though? I mean that is now increasingly how people learn what is happening in the world. Does that have a similar level of blood lust as the mainstream press?
Jonah Berger and Katherine Milkman from Wharton have looked into this in some interesting research. They scanned the brainwaves of participants as they consumed various kinds of news content and found that good news can spread faster than bad news.
Their rationale is that when we consume mass media we’re essentially passive observers. When we share content via social media however we have an interest in how our contacts feel when they consume our content, and this makes it more important that what we share makes them happy.
The research involved analysis of the most shared list on the New York Times, which is similar to that found on other news sites. The BBC for instance have a tab on their news page listing the most shared and most read items at that particular moment.
One particularly noteworthy finding was that science related topics were more likely to feature on the most shared list than non-science topics. Like others, I find when I read cool science stories a sense of wonderment at the great things mankind is doing, and this is just the kind of thing I like to share. Sad articles by contrast don’t provoke any such desire to share them.
The experiment is documented in Berger’s new book on how content spreads virally. Will it prompt news sites to start publishing happier content? I suspect that’s a pretty big cultural shift to undertake, but hopefully with publishers having detailed analytics about what works and what doesn’t, we’ll slowly begin to see more of the good news that is surely out there.