October 11, 2016

Social Embed Decay and How It’s Wrecking Your Articles

Almar Sheikh by Almar Sheikh

UPDATE: The U.S. Whitehouse has detailed the transition of social power. @POTUS Tweets will not undergo changes as depicted, rather they will be archived and all current @POTUS embedded Tweets will break across the internet. Unless Twitter and social platforms map these changes appropriately, it could affect a large swath of embeds across the internet. Here is a small sample of recent news articles that will be affected, we can’t accurately estimate how many articles will suffer social decay across the news industry, however it’s safe to say a lot. Below is how SAM helps protect publishers from these situations.

Not long ago, journalists had to be “on the ground” to capture eye-witness content. Now, they simply refresh their Twitter timeline or leverage tools like SAM, to be in the know, within a matter of seconds. The flood of content sourced via social networks inevitably made it’s way into news reporting thanks to the ease of embed codes. No need to download anything or involve your colleagues, just copy, paste, and go.

After conducting our industry-wide study, which analyzed over 1 million web pages from the top newsrooms around the world, we found a whopping 23% of these pages contained embedded social content. This means approximately 1 in every 4 online articles contains content from the likes of Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, or Facebook.

While social media can be a powerful tool to help learn about and bolster news stories, there can also be unforeseen and often delayed consequences. One such consequence is the decay of these social media embeds over time.

We define social embed decay as embedded content that is changed or deleted after it has been posted by the original creator. The connection that seems to be missing is the industry’s understanding that social posts can be, and often are, changed after they’ve been embedded into news stories. Most often journalists embed content thinking it’s a perfect snapshot that will remain pure and intact.

So, what contributes to social embed decay?

Our data shows 50% of social media embed decay is attributed to deleted content. Social media is increasingly part of the core story and missing narrative never translates to a good reader experience (not to mention the damage broken links cause to SEO rankings).


The other 50% of social embed decay is due to edits or changes made by the owner of the original post. We’ve seen many examples of malicious and intentional trolling with embedded content, where the original uploaders have changed profile pictures or captions to be intentionally explicit or offensive.

Granted, not all social decay is intentionally harmful. Take for example the following tweet made by the @POTUS Twitter account, currently credited to Barack Obama:


It’s not hard to see how the following tweet will convey vastly different meanings once the @POTUS Twitter account changes hands in November. With Obama’s tweets widely embedded by the entire industry, this is likely the largest and most predictable moment of decay for countless news articles.

This is not to say journalists and news publishers should refrain from embedded social media; there are solutions.

Several news publishers have already tried to mitigate the risk of social embed decay by taking screenshots (or worse, actually downloading the content) versus the use of actual embed codes. As most of you have already guessed, this is rifled with legal and ethical concerns.

The other solution is using a provider like SAM. As we’ve developed our embed framework we’ve been incredibly mindful that all parties need to be taken into consideration when dealing with social media content. We are the only platform that continuously monitors the health and status of embeds, notifying our users when changes are made, and automatically taking action to ensure articles remain intact.


View the industry-wide study of over 1 million web pages here.

Want to know how social media embed decay is affecting your articles? Receive your free Social Media Embed Report Card here.

By continuing to use this site you consent to the use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy. Learn more