The web isn’t as open as we might think.

Alexis Madrigal, a senior editor at The Atlantic, coined what might prove to be a very much discussed term amongst social media naturals for some time to come:

Behold the dark social of online sharing.

The Social Sharing We Can’t See

We’re all very much impressed with the sharing numbers we see from various social networks, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn included. But how much is socially shared beyond measure, beyond what we can see?

How much is shared via email, instant messages and direct messages? How much is shared on darknets, BBS networks and untraceable forums? According to Alexis Madrigal, quite a lot.

Most of the sharing takes place where it can’t be traced.

Here’s a tl;dr summary from the Atlantic article:

1. The sharing you see on sites like Facebook and Twitter is the tip of the ‘social’ iceberg. We are impressed by its scale because it’s easy to measure.

2. But most sharing is done via dark social means like email and IM that are difficult to measure.

3. According to new data on many media sites, 69% of social referrals came from dark social. 20% came from Facebook.

4. Facebook and Twitter do shift the paradigm from private sharing to open publishing. They structure, archive, and monetize your publications.

When you calculate reach, are you taking dark social into account? Please share in the comments.

Photo by Rosie Fraser on Unsplash.


  1. Is it Dark Social or just grassroots communications as it always has been? Just a thought. But it is an accurate point.

    • It’s – to your point Geoff – what’s always been. But what excited me was giving it a cool name and the attempt to measure it.

      Reminds me of what IDC did when they started looking at the amount of digital data created in the world and they found that we passively generate more data as individuals than we actively do.

      For instance, there’s a lot of talk of much data we create by uploading to Youtube, blog, tweet and email, but this is nothing compared to credit card swipes, surveillance cameras capturing us and so on.

      IDC then coined the term our “Digital Shadow” which I thought made the phenomenon more tangible and easier to discuss. I think this is the same sort of thing.

      Love your blog by the way, I’m a long time lurker! :)

  2. Hi Jerry,
    Isn’t the dark social mound of sharing easy to measure? If it’s the sharing that doesn’t occur via social media platforms (SMP), then don’t we simply have to subtract the number of shares via SMP from the total nr of views of say a YouTube video to calculate its dark side?

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