Celebrity deaths most shareable content according to news tracking engine

News of the death of former model Charlotte Dawson was the most shared on social media in Australia last week, conforming to a trend showing news of celebrity deaths is among the most sharable content.

The Likeable Engine, a research tool developed by digital news editors Hal Crawford of NineMSN, Andrew Hunter of Microsoft Windows 8 Apps, and Domagoj Filipovic, the head of Mi9’s creative arm Mi9 Studios, tracks the sharing of news stories on social media and has allowed the pair to establish a better understanding of which stories are likely to go viral and be more shareable.

Charlotte Dawson’s death reported on Saturday was the most shared story in Australia over the last week with the Daily Telegraph’s story being the most popular with 37,165 shares since the news emerged on Saturday. The ABC News version of the story was the second most widely shared with 20,421 shares on Facebook and Twitter.

News of US actor Harold Ramis’s death yesterday followed a similar pattern.

Hunter told Mumbrella it conformed to “breaking news behaviour” with “people wanting to share the news and be first with the news, to let the network know something happened – and a nostalgia, a confrontation of the sharer’s mortality, and sometimes a grieving for a departed era”.

Dawson's death was the most shared story last week

Dawson’s death was the most shared story last week

The search engine was created as part of Hunter, Crawford and Filipovic’s Share Wars project, to pair gather data that would show what stories were sharing and analyse the patterns over time.

For two years the Likeable Engine has been harvesting data from 62 sites in Australia and the US, and last month it was opened up to the public as a free research tool allowing people to search for the most shared stories in Australia and the US as they happen, or between a specific date range.

Stories that are shared widely are illustrated with a steep curve, directing digital editors and journalists to the stories they might want to publish, said Hunter.

“For us it’s about curiosity and fun,” Hunter said. “There’s a benefit in watching what the data does every day to see what shares on a daily basis, and we’ve started to see patterns. Certain story types that tend to share more than others.

“The moment someone famous dies social media lights up and the articles get shared widely and quickly and that’s something we have seen for years.”

A similar pattern emerged when Philip Seymour Hoffman died earlier this month, said Hunter.

“For many Philip Seymour Hoffman represented the past 15 years of cinema, and the fact that he would be in no more movies marked the end of that era,” he added.

“(Ghostbusters creator) Harold Ramis also represents an era in film making that many of those sharing would fondly remember. Ghostbusters, Stripes and Caddyshack were classics and we think an event such as Ramis’ death compels sharers to reflect on this era and feel nostalgic.”

News of Ramis death was the most shared on social media yesterday

News of Ramis death was the most shared on social media yesterday

As well as being of interest to journalists, Hunter said it has found more unusual applications, with TV producers using the site to generate story ideas.

“We don’t know of anything else like this that exists free and open and accessible to anyone, and I think journalists in particular like to see how their stories are compared to the rest of their colleagues, not just nationally but around the world,” he said.

Megan Reynolds


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