I read a lot of articles in one of two ways:
- Open a bunch of tabs and then read them one at a time
- Save a bunch of interesting-looking stories to Pocket and then read them one at a time
So by the time I’ve decided to share a link to the story on Facebook Twitter, Mastodon, etc., I’ve often forgotten where I saw it to begin with.
If it’s a site I follow regularly, or I found it through a search, or if it was recommended by Pocket, no big deal, but if someone else shared the link and I saw it, I feel like I ought to give a little credit.
Now, the share/retweet buttons do automate this trail…but only if you do it immediately on Facebook or Twitter, because they have a nasty tendency to update your timeline when you come back, making it difficult to find the post you clicked on.
(It took me 30 minutes to find this tweet, since I couldn’t remember who had written it, only who on my list had retweeted it.)
This encourages you to share articles before you read them, no doubt contributing to the problem of people sharing stuff that turns out to be total BS, sending it halfway around the world before the truth can get its proverbial pants on.
I’m not sure how much people care about the trail these days. Citing the original source? absolutely. Posting someone else’s idea as yours? Hell yeah, just search for “stolen tweets.”
But the intermediary? Whether you follow the person you retweeted, or you follow someone who follows someone who follows someone who retweeted them, it looks the same to the rest of the world. Back when reposts and linkblogging were done manually, it was a BIG DEAL. I remember people getting upset that big-name bloggers would share links to things that smaller bloggers had already shared without crediting them. (Admittedly, I don’t remember whether it was a common complaint or just a few people.)
On the other hand, if you’re studying the spread of ideas, opinions, information or misinformation, it’s invaluable. And if you’re trying to hide a propaganda operation, you might want to disguise the trail…
But social media users do care about share counts and like counts. Original posters want the validation. Viewers see high counts as social proof that other people find the post valuable. And the platforms themselves use it as a signal to prioritize display in the newsfeed algorithm du jour. So there’s a strong incentive to get people (or bots) to use those share, reblog, retweet buttons.
So when it comes down to it, the normal use case preserves that link trail (even if you only see the oldest and newest links in that chain)…and I’m just an outlier when it comes to the way I use social media.