Bad news travels fast but positive posts spread wide

Even in the age of short attention spans, people prefer to share touching stories rather than gossip

Mr Muhammad's story of his flight from Syria got more than a million likes on the Humans of New York page.
Mr Muhammad's story of his flight from Syria got more than a million likes on the Humans of New York page.PHOTO: HUMANS OF NEW YORK/FACEBOOK
Actor Vin Diesel's (right) tribute to his Fast And Furious co-star Paul Walker (left) got a record-breaking 7.8 million likes.
Actor Vin Diesel's (right) tribute to his Fast And Furious co-star Paul Walker (left) got a record-breaking 7.8 million likes.PHOTO: VIN DIESEL/FACEBOOK
Mr Edward Snowden, the former US National Security Agency contractor, got 1.3 million followers on Twitter in three days.
Mr Edward Snowden, the former US National Security Agency contractor, got 1.3 million followers on Twitter in three days.PHOTO: EDWARD SNOWDEN/TWITTER

Fans of the Humans of New York (Hony) Facebook page would have noticed something out of character this week.

Instead of telling stories of residents of the Big Apple, as the page has done since 2010, new posts now document the struggle Syrian refugees face while seeking asylum.

This mini project, titled Refugee Stories, delves into grief and reconciliation, and is the latest brainchild of Hony founder Brandon Stanton. "Together, these migrants are part of one of the largest population movements in modern history," he says. "But their stories are composed of unique and singular tragedies."

The first story in the series is a powerful one. It tells of Mr Muhammad, a Syrian man who, in his escape from the terror threat at home, was lied to, robbed and left to drown. His father was nearly beaten to death by the police. His brother was killed by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants while working in an oil field.

Miraculously, through a mixture of sheer determination and acts of kindness from strangers, Mr Muhammad finally attained Austrian citizenship.

The penultimate part of his story, a photo of him holding up his passport, was posted last Monday. It attracted more than 1.1 million likes, 26,000 comments and close to 70,000 shares.

Mr Stanton has been praised by many for his adroit social media use in showcasing the plight of refugees.



    The former national development minister has taken up the "hot" seat at the Transport Ministry.


    Netizens, particularly those from the Philippines, took to Twitter to follow the latest news on Internet star Maine Mendoza and Filipino actor Alden Richards. The conversation with this hashtag has reached almost 26 million tweets. The current record of 28.4 million tweets was set at the Super Bowl on February 1 this year.


    K-pop idol Gary Kang dropped in for a surprise visit at Singapore Polytechnic last week. The star of popular television variety series Running Man also received a bottle of perfume made by one of his fans.

Closer to home, the Humans of Singapore Facebook page, which was inspired by Mr Stanton's work, has also been unearthing some gems.

One of their most popular entries this month centres on the life of an unnamed young man who was born out of wedlock. He had a tumultuous childhood, drifting in and out of trouble, and was eventually sent to a boys' home for two years.

But things picked up after he left the home. He found a stable job and was finally able to rent a place of his own. His parting words in the well-received post liked by more than 16,500 users, "Never give up. Be your own hero".

Amid shortening attention spans and a constant barrage of information, the popularity of such heart-warming posts is an insightful indicator of the human condition.

A new study, recently published in the PeerJ Computer Science journal, analysed 19.7 million tweets sent out in September last year.

Researchers Emilio Ferrara and Zeyao Yang found that while negative posts spread much faster than positive ones, it was the positive posts which were shared by more users, reaching a larger audience.

Case in point: The Facebook post which has garnered the most likes (more than 7.8 million), according to the Guinness World Records, belongs to actor Vin Diesel who posted a touching photo tribute after his Fast And Furious co-star Paul Walker died in a car accident in 2013. It had more than 400,000 shares.

Of the findings, the researchers said: "This suggests that positive tweets require more time to be rebroadcasted, while negative or neutral posts generally achieve their first retweet twice as fast."

This is also why rumours and fear-mongering spread quickly online during emergencies and disasters.

"However, if one aims at long-lasting diffusion, then positive content ensures wide reach and the most preferences," they added.

Simply put, the study confirms what many of us already know - that within our enormous appetite for and redistribution of information, we prefer to push out positive news.

All the better if it's tied to a touching, well-told story.


Parents might want to take extra care when posting photos of their children on social media sites.

About half of the material found on websites and blogs frequented by paedophiles has been sourced or stolen from parents innocently posting images of their families, said Australia's new Children's eSafety Commissioner.

A senior investigator told the Sydney Morning Herald that one of the sites had at least 45 million images. Many of them had comments that explicitly sexualised the children.

Clueless, 'over-sharing' parents are a concern, said cyber-safety expert Susan McLean.

"When you post anything online, (it) does not matter where it is, you have lost control of it," she said.

Almost all social media platforms have security settings that limit who sees what. Remember to use them.


Mr Edward Snowden, the former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor whose leaks exposed a massive spy programme, joined Twitter last Wednesday.

He amassed close to 1.3 million followers in three days.

The famous whistle-blower also forgot to turn off the notifications he received from Twitter each time someone messaged or followed him.

This led to 47GB worth of e-mail messages. "#LessonLearned," he tweeted.

True to form, the 32-year-old chose to follow one account - that of his former employer NSA.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 04, 2015, with the headline 'Bad news travels fast but positive posts spread wide'. Subscribe