Sunday, July 01, 2018

Stop linking to stories without reading them first

On a good day, it takes me about 39 minutes to commute via public transportation from my house to my office. Most of that time is spent as a passenger on the subway. It's time I often use to read my Twitterfeed to see if any of the people I am following have posted anything interesting.

Often, there's a tweet with a link to an article. If it looks interesting, I click on the link and read the article. If that article does indeed prove interesting and seems like something my Twitter followers might like to read, I tweet a link to it.

But apparently, as someone who reads the articles he links to, I'm in the minority.

A 2016 study -- "Social Clicks: What and Who GetsRead on Twitter?" -- conducted by researchers from Columbia University and the French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation examined 2.8 million Twitter shares and found that only 59 percent of people who retweeted links to stories on social media had actually read the pieces they linked to.

Regularly, I find myself reading a post on social media that seems a bit suspect. Sometimes there is a photo that doesn't seem quite right with a note from the poster indicating how the story supports his or her strong views on a particular topic. I come across such posts from people on all sides of political and social arguments. When I take the time to check out a story linked to, I sometimes find that the story is from a questionable source or relates to a long debunked fabricated piece of information.

There are tools and websites available to check out whether some are fake. does a reasonable job of debunking false stories being spread. (No, a photo of the 1936 New York Yankees, which shows players in uniform kneeling is not a photo of Major League Baseball players of a different era kneeling in protest of "Black Lynchings," so please stop posting and spreading the story.)

Sites like,,, and help readers grasp whether a politician's claim is true or false.

There's also a free one-hour verification course made available online from First Draft designed to teach people "how to verify eyewitness media, fabricated websites, visual memes, and manipulated videos." (Full disclosure: First Draft is housed at Harvard Kennedy School's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, where I am a faculty affiliate.)

Spreading false information -- even if it's to support a noble point -- is wrong. While the intent may be to strengthen a great moral cause, when a story you spread proves to be inaccurate, it's likely to do harm to your efforts to spread the word.

But before you can verify the information you spread, you need to read it. Sharing links without reading the story linked to does little to increase knowledge on a subject. It may be easy to retweet a tantalizing tweet without reading the article linked to, but it can be irresponsible to do so.

The right thing is to share links to stories on topics about which you are passionate, but first, read the story. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 


1 comment:

Phil Clutts said...

Amen to that, Jeffery. I have friends who send me stuff all the time that is shown to be false, misattributed, or whatever by Snopes and/or one of the others you mentioned (Truth or Fiction is another good one). When I suggest they run these things by Snopes before checking, they either ignore me or claim it is biased. I tell them that even Snopes’ competitors say they are fair. Here is an old, but still relevant article on the subject -