There are many theories to explain what inspires people to share images via social and email channels. Fast Company suggests that sharers are trying to project an aspirational or idealized version of themselves to their social networks. From images of sophisticated outfits to the latest upscale kitchen designs, we want to be recognized for the life we desire but not necessarily the one that we live. However, if personal recognition is driving image shares, why don't we see more imagery of famine victims in Somalia or graphic news imagery from an ongoing Middle East conflict that we oppose? Wouldn't people be inclined to share those pictures to project an image of social/political awareness and advocacy? Not as much as you'd think.
In the US, we find that images that contain gory, violent, tragic, or sexually suggestive content are half as likely to be shared via Luminate's Sharing Apps than images that don't contain such explicit content. We see this trend across nearly all verticals, most dramatically on news channels, where graphic war and tragic images are rarely shared. Perhaps we don't want to be personally associated with bad content, even if we have strong opinions about the topic. Entertainment is the only vertical that showed increased sharing for inappropriate or negative content, presumably driven by our insatiable appetite for shock gossip.
In a world full of tragedy and pain, maybe we surround ourselves with positive imagery because it simply makes us feel happy and secure. Depressing news stories may attract our attention, but we don't want to be constantly reminded of the struggle experienced by so many. Publishers should take note. If their goal is to encourage sharing of their images, try happier image content.