Facebook and Twitter Are Rethinking Their Share Buttons

Both companies added friction to their sharing process in recent months.

Starting this week, Facebook will slow you down a bit when you go to share Covid-related photos and memes. When you hit the Share button on these images, the company will show you the date they originally appeared, forcing you to consider whether you still want to pass them along.

Facebook’s new safeguard, and others like it, didn’t get much attention at the Senate’s content moderation hearing this week. Big Technology, in fact, is first reporting this latest update here. But giving people more information before they share is becoming increasingly popular inside social media companies — Facebook even has a name for it: “Informative Sharing” — and the practice will likely influence information quality on social platforms more than any measure the current content moderation debate covers.

“If people share a piece of misleading content, irrelevant content, outdated content, they feel really embarrassed and regretful,” Facebook product manager Anita Joseph told Big Technology. “We knew there was an opportunity there to put notification screens in and help people not have that bad experience anymore.”

In recent months, both Facebook and Twitter have added much-needed friction to their Share and Retweet buttons. Facebook’s added notification screens making people pause, just for a moment, and consider some context before they share Covid-related posts and images (with the exception of posts from recognized global health organizations like the WHO), and outdated articles as well. Twitter is asking people if they actually want to retweet posts with links they haven’t clicked, and it’s temporarily adding a step that puts people in the Quote Tweet screen before they can natively retweet.

Adding this type of friction will help restore some of the thoughtfulness involved in sharing information, which the Retweet and Share have diminished. When people use these buttons, they pass along information in an instant, often without a second thought, and regularly share posts that confirm their biases, whether or not the information is true. When people stop and think before sharing, they are less prone to pass along misinformation, according to research from MIT professor David Rand.

Facebook earlier this year did some internal research about sharing behavior and found its users felt embarrassed when they passed along bad information. To solve this, the company decided to go directly to the source — the Share button — and insert screens with some context before the share to add some thoughtfulness back into the process.

Facebook then researched a bunch of different use cases for these notifications screens, including inserting them when a specific piece of content was moving fast inside Facebook, but people found that confusing, so Facebook shelved that idea. The company then looked into putting a notification screen up when people went to share an article that was months old, and it took hold.

“Content sometimes can be used in misleading ways even though it itself is not misleading,” Joseph said. Reports of crime, for instance, can cause alarm if someone passes them off as current, even if they took place long ago. So Facebook in June rolled out this sharing speedbump for people looking to share content more than 90 days old.

Around the same time Facebook was working on adding context to the share, Twitter was experimenting with something new in Brazil. The company was inserting a natural pause before the Retweet, sending people to the Quote Tweet screen before they could natively retweet something, and apparently felt that pause changed its service for the better. In October, Twitter said it would roll out this experiment globally, on a temporary basis ahead of the election, but there’s a chance it could stick around for good.

“We’re open to either outcome and are looking forward to learning from the behavioral changes we see,” Twitter product head Kayvon Beykpour said as the company rolled out the change. “There are risks with Quote Tweets as well (particularly on the abuse / harassment side) which we still have work to do to mitigate.”

Twitter declined to share information about how its retweet reforms are working, but Facebook seems happy with the progress so far. “We found that the impact on misleading Covid-19 content was greater than the impact on non-misleading content,” Joseph said, of the notification on Covid-19 links. “Which is what made us realize that not only is this good for users, but this is an ecosystem benefit as well.”

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This Week On CNBC: Talking Big Tech Hearings

I joined CNBC’s Closing Bell this week to talk about the Senate’s Section 230 hearing. My main point: The Senate should focus on rewriting antitrust laws, not content moderation.

This week on the Big Technology Podcast: The Lincoln Project’s Steve Schmidt

When Steve Schmidt was a senior advisor on John McCain’s campaign in 2008, Twitter was a curiosity. Now, he and a number of former Republican establishment members are using social media deftly to make the case against President Trump with the Lincoln Project. Their anti-Trump ads seem to go viral at least once a week, and may indeed influence the outcome of the election. Schmidt, a Lincoln Project co-founder, joins the Big Technology Podcast to discuss the evolution of the Republican Party since the McCain days, and how social media is changing politics.

You can listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Overcast, and read the transcript on OneZero.

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Have a great week. I’ll see you next Thursday.