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Study: Few People Read What They Share

We feel more knowledgeable when we share articles, even if we haven’t read them.

Key points

  • Most of us share links on social media without actually reading them, at least some of the time.
  • Research suggests that sharing an unread article increases our subjective knowledge, making us feel we know about a topic even when we don’t.
  • Obviously, sharing an unread article does not increase a person’s objective knowledge about a topic.
Source: ​ Karolina Grabowska/Pexels
Read before you share. If you don’t, you may feel more knowledgeable than you are (which can be embarrassing).
Source: ​ Karolina Grabowska/Pexels

“I share, therefore I know?” asked the authors of a recent research article. In a series of seven studies, the researchers demonstrated that sharing content increased a person’s “subjective knowledge,” which is the belief that they know certain information rather than actually (objectively) knowing that information. Why would people believe something that is so obviously not true (if they think about it for just a minute)? These researchers posited that we “internalize” these behaviors in social settings (including online), allowing the behavior (sharing knowledge) to inform how we think about ourselves. So, we unconsciously believe that sharing something on social media means something: It tells others that we think we are knowledgeable about a particular topic.

People Don’t Always Read Before They Share

But what if we share something we didn’t read? It’s so easy to share information on social media (much easier than in a face-to-face conversation) that we may unthinkingly share an item without even clicking on it. Indeed, a majority of the time (59%!), people posting links on Twitter do not themselves click on the link they share. That means about three out of every five articles you see on Twitter, on average, have not been read by the person who posted them! (We’ve written previously about measures Twitter has taken to encourage users to read before posting—for example, nudges.) Similarly, in the research article mentioned above, only 28% of participants responded that they read everything they shared. The researchers wrote: “The ease of sharing via social media enables—and perhaps encourages—consumers to share information that they did not generate and have not even read.”

In one of the studies outlined in the article, participants were shown a series of news articles and given the opportunity to click on them and read them. Participants also had the opportunity to share the news articles with future research participants whether they chose to read them or not. Then the participants were asked to respond to items about their subjective knowledge of the topics in the news articles, answering items such as “Compared to most other people, I know more about [topic].” The researchers followed that with asking participants to respond to multiple-choice items that assessed whether they actually did (objectively) know about the topic. It turns out that participants who read a particular article reported higher subjective knowledge and objective knowledge, on average, than those who had not read the article. That’s what we would expect based on common sense. But here is the interesting finding: Participants who did not read a particular article—but shared it anyway—had higher subjective knowledge, but not higher objective knowledge. They felt like they knew about the topic, just from sharing it, although, of course, they did not.

A Case Study in Likely Sharing Without Reading

We experienced the phenomenon of sharing without reading in this very column. One of our recent posts here described the effects of repetition of information – whether fact or fiction – on increased believability. We featured a media personality who was kicked off YouTube permanently for repeatedly posting pandemic-related misinformation. Following the publication of our post, this person discussed us for more than four minutes on his national radio show, and also excerpted this particular snippet of the show as a video for his Facebook page, giving his discussion of us additional reach. In his discussion, this media personality stated that we were spreading misinformation (despite the fact that we included links to all of our sources) and referred to us in turn as “dunces,” “morons,” and “idiots.” Many members of his audience, which numbers in the millions, subsequently reached out to us via social media and email to defend him, but their derogatory and uninformed comments made it clear that hardly any had read the article.

We laughed at ourselves for thinking that the silver lining would be lots of people reading the article, which would be evidenced by page views. Strangely, despite the enormous interest in explaining why we were the purveyors of misinformation, the post garnered a surprisingly low number of views. Of the 29 posts on our Misinformation Desk page, that one drew the seventh-lowest number of views, hundreds below the median and thousands below the mean. Most of our critics, apparently, were not reading our article, yet apparently felt knowledgeable enough to attack our supposed views.

The Takeaway

We are not indicting our critics as somehow being unique in sharing without reading. In all fairness, the data suggest that most people engage in this behavior, at least some of the time. This example is simply a reminder that we should always read before we share. That way, we know that what we are sharing is accurate and a reflection of how we wish to portray ourselves. It also prevents us from succumbing to the psychological phenomenon of believing we are knowledgeable about a topic when we objectively are not. Reading generally makes us more knowledgeable, but not reading does not.


Gabielkov, M., Ramachandran, A., Chaintreau, A., & Legout, A. (2016). Social clicks: What and who gets read on Twitter?. ACM SIGMETRICS / IFIP Performance 2016. Antibes Juan-les-Pins, France. ffhal-01281190f.

Ward, A. F., Zheng, J., & Broniarczyk, S. M. (2022). I share, therefore I know? Sharing online content‐even without reading it‐inflates subjective knowledge. Journal of Consumer Psychology.

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