Why We Share Stuff Without Reading It First (and Why It Matters)

Don’t hit “share” just yet.

I know we’ve all done this at least once. Today, I realized I do it at least once a month.

Yes. Even I sometimes catch myself sharing articles online before I’ve read them — or without even reading them at all.

I’m not proud of it. But I think it’s important that we acknowledge that we are all part of a much bigger internet-centric problem.

Because while it’s true that shares give writers’ work more exposure, it does nothing if nobody actually clicks on the article. And even that is pointless, at least to a writer, if no one reads the content associated with that link.

I am a person who informs for a living, and sometimes, I share things without being informed. That’s not cool. It’s setting a terrible example and goes against everything I stand for as an internet creator.

So why do I — why do we — do this? Why do we share before we read, or instead of reading altogether?

Maybe, deep down, it’s because we’re more interested in having immediate interactions and conversations with our friends than taking the time to read a 500-word article. Not everyone is like this, but many of us are. It’s not because we don’t want to read what’s in front of us. Sometimes, we fully intend to read something … eventually … and we honestly just never get around to it.

Many of us also want to feel like we’re part of something bigger — so when we see our friends sharing things and adding their own commentary to them, our first instinct is to share right along with them, even if we don’t have anything to add (yet).

Also, many writers are told that an online presence is worthless if you’re only sharing your own content — especially on Twitter. Many of us, myself included, feel increased pressure to retweet things to show we’re “in the know” — yes, again, often without reading what we’re about to distribute.

We know it’s wrong. Yet we do it because, honestly, we’re not perfect. We give into the temptation to treat headlines as one-sentence summaries — though now more than ever, that’s far from their purpose. We trust that a featured image and a short excerpt tell us all we need to know. We’re so eager to show our friends how “current” we are that we sometimes end up never actually participating at all — because we’ve done nothing to support an article’s author at all.

Many companies measure their writers’ success based on views. Clicks. Social media interactions are usually a completely separate metric. And honestly, if we’re not actually taking the time to read what’s being written … can we really expect people to read what we’re working so hard to create?

Do you feel guilty now? Good.

This isn’t just me telling you how horrible you are. We can all do better. I’m going to try my hardest to start using Facebook’s “save” function more often — so that I won’t be tempted to share a piece of writing before I’ve gotten the chance to read it just so I won’t forget about it. I’m going to try not to share something unless I have a specific reason for doing so (other than sharing for the purpose of sharing).

I’m going to try to break this terrible habit in my own life. And I hope you’ll start taking steps toward doing the same in yours. If we all do, maybe things will change. That’s how change works. A bunch of individuals decide to actively participate in the solution to a problem on their own time.

Writers deserve to be read. We can’t walk around frustrated with our own pageviews if we’re not appreciating the work of others. It’s time to do your part.

Click. Read. Absorb. And when you share, point out what was most valuable to you about this experience. Set a good example for your followers and friends. You didn’t write it. But someone else did.

We can make a difference. We don’t have to be part of the problem anymore.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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