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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Why Are We So Uninformed? We Don’t Read What We Share

By Peter DeWitt — November 11, 2018 4 min read
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In August, Superintendent Michael Hynes wrote an outstanding article focusing on the fact that kids need recess because their mental health may depend on it. The article will most likely be one of the most viewed Education Week opinion posts of 2018 because it was shared over 300,000 times to date. Not only was the post shared 300,000 times, it was also “liked” numerous times on each one of those shares.

The interesting part is that it was read 100,000 times. That is an outstanding number of views for a post, which is why it will be at the top of the list for 2018. However, it’s interesting that it was shared 3x more than it was actually read.

Many people share articles that they actually don’t read, which contributes to a great deal of chaos on their social-media pages. In fact, this Forbes Magazine article cites research that shows that 59% of us share articles we never read.

Many ‘readers’ shared the article by Hynes because they no doubt agree that recess is important, and they are probably those who have seen opportunities to have recess in their schools decrease, or they are someone who thinks childhood is somehow being lost these days.

The reality seems to be that people don’t read the articles they share because they care less about the content of the article and more about what sharing the article does for them. In this Guardian article written by Simon Parkin, he quotes a speech by Facebook co-founder Sean Parker, at the same time he focuses on two things that cloud our sharing judgment. Those two things are tech and dopamine. Parkin writes:

Facebook's architects exploited a "vulnerability in human psychology," explained Parker who resigned from the company in 2005. Whenever someone likes or comments on a post or photograph, he said, "we ... give you a little dopamine hit." Facebook is an empire of empires, then, built upon a molecule.

Parkin goes on to explain,

Dopamine, discovered in 1957, is one of 20 or so major neurotransmitters, a fleet of chemicals that, like bicycle couriers weaving through traffic, carry urgent messages between neurons, nerves, and other cells in the body. These neurotransmitters ensure our hearts keep beating, our lungs keep breathing, and, in dopamine's case, that we know to get a glass of water when we feel thirsty, or attempt to procreate so that our genes may survive our death.

This quick boost that we look for when we post or share articles on social media seems to cloud our judgment because we are often sharing or liking something we have really not read. In fact, when I share one of my Finding Common Ground blogs on my social-media pages, there are numerous people who like it within seconds of when I post. And I post right after I upload and publish the blog, so there is no way that they read it ahead of time.

Is that bad?

Well, I like it because as soon as someone likes it on Facebook I feel good about what I wrote. However, when I walk away and reflect on the fact that someone liked it so quickly, I realize that those people really didn’t give me positive feedback because I know they did not actually read the post.

Which leads to the next issue...

Do We Mislead You With Titles?
Recently, I read this NBC article focusing on the fact that LGBTQ Americans will not be counted on the 2020 census. When I read the article before I posted it, I learned that LGBTQ citizens were never counted on a census before. It’s not that they will not be counted as individuals, but more about the fact that they will not have a box to check off indicating that they are a part of the LGBTQ community.

To me, this is a disturbing continued decision by the powers that be where the census is concerned. Since the census is about providing accurate and relevant data about Americans, it would be nice to be able to understand the percentage of LGBTQ Americans there are in the country. It would also be helpful to understand how many Americans in the LGBTQ community are now married considering the change in laws allowing them to marry.

After reading the article, I posted it on Facebook and wrote “This is sad.” Within seconds, I had a plethora of people click the sad-face emoji, and others who began writing “Vote them out.” I also received some messages from people who misread the title and thought that people in the LGBTQ community would not be counted at all; when the article was really about the fact that there would not be an opportunity to identify as LGBTQ. Did the author or editor behind the NBC article intend to mislead so many people? Maybe not.

In fact, I have been accused of doing the same thing from time to time. For example, a few years ago I wrote this article called Why The Growth Mindset Won’t Work. It was shared widely around North America and internationally, but many of those who read the title assumed I was writing that the growth mindset did not work. In actuality, I was writing the reasons why it may not work in our schools based on some evidence John Hattie was providing and from anecdotal evidence I provided from visiting schools that said they were a “Growth Mindset” school.

Did I purposely use that title to mislead people? No, I did not. However, those of us who write know that the title is everything, and a good title makes readers want to click on the link. What we are learning is that it doesn’t always mean that people read it after they click. Is that the fault of the writer or the one sharing the article without reading?

In the End
So what does this mean? If adults click and share so much because it increases their dopamine level, our students are suffering from the same issue. We seem to care more about being liked than we do about actually reading what we share. And considering that the post from Hynes focused on children and recess, it means that many of the readers may have been teachers or leaders.

If we are going to shout on the rooftops that students need media literacy so they can accurately make decisions, should we as adults make sure we have media literacy as well? If we become more informed, it may help us be less polarizing where politics is concerned. But that’s for another blog...

Peter DeWitt, Ed.D., is the author of several books, including Collaborative Leadership: 6 Influences That Matter Most (Corwin Press. 2016), School Climate: Leading with Collective Efficacy (Corwin Press. 2017), and Coach It Further: Using the Art of Coaching to Improve School Leadership (Corwin Press. 2018). Connect with him on Twitter.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.