If you’ve ever wondered about it, there’s a journal out there that looks at that. Basically if the news makes you very happy or very angry, it might get shared around. If it just makes you sad, that’s less likely to happy.
Why are certain pieces of online content (e.g., advertisements, videos, news articles) more viral than others?
Positive content is more viral than negative content, but the relationship between emotion and social transmission is more complex than valence alone.
Virality is partially driven by physiological arousal. Content that evokes high-arousal positive (awe) or negative (anger or anxiety) emotions is more viral. Content that evokes low-arousal, or deactivating, emotions (e.g., sadness) is less viral. These results hold even when the authors control for how surprising, interesting, or practically useful content is (all of which are positively linked to virality), as well as external drivers of attention (e.g., how prominently content was featured).
Read More: What Makes Online Content Viral?
At least it explains why places like Gawker, The Kernel, Daily Mail get so many eyeballs in the grand scheme of things – everything is written and designed to divide opinion and turn people on each other. Good journalism gets shared a lot less and by far fewer people because it may be punchy, brilliantly reported, thorough and whatnot but it makes people sad.
Take the non-story of George Osborne getting on a train with a standard ticket and upgrading. It became a big deal because a journalist tweeted her own version of the events – she said, she tweeted, she spoke to train staff, etc. It’s a good example of how easy it is to get people angry about something in exchange for some exposure for yourself even when you have no story other than “£180 is a lot of money for travel” and “he didn’t have anything to say at Euston” (well, how could he? He’s got people doing these things for him) — although he’s not the first or the last to go 1st class in those circumstances.
This is selfish – and even though I hate it personally, it’s because free news platforms have to find audiences for each single piece of news. Given it’s not in a subscription, the big measures of success become the likes, the pageviews and the number of comments. Which, in the end, just feeds us the stuff we want to read (i.e. “I want to read about Osborne being a ticket dodger because I hate him already”).
If it doesn’t spread, it’s dead. Or maybe just against what the vast majority of people believes.