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#Epicfail? New study reveals we're a nation that cares too much to criticise.

25 February 2013

  • 67 million photos, videos, stories and jokes are being shared in the UK via the mobile internet each week to make people smile (45%) and to feel closer to friends and family (37%).

  • According to experts, sharing silly stuff online is the modern mix tape – the thoughtfulness and feel good factor behind the act is more important than the content itself.

As the nation turns to niceness, the era of sharing pictures, videos and stories that poke fun at other’s misfortune – aka the ‘epic fail’ – is meeting its end. According to a new study[1] commissioned by mobile network Three, spreading happiness and showing those we care about that we’re thinking of them, are key moral motivations.

From pictures of gurgling babies to photo-bombing seals, people are now sharing tens of millions of self generated photos and internet memes on their mobiles instead.

The study was conducted by award-winning independent research agency, BrainJuicer, and collates an in depth analysis into the content people share and receive on their mobiles. The study analyses data from 2000 survey respondents, 200 week-long mobile diaries and expert interviews.

‘Schadenfreude’ (enjoyment of other people’s misfortune) or ‘epic fail’ was found to prompt negative or neutral emotions by 69 per cent of recipients and mirrors the decline in people using the search term ‘epic fail’[2] since the start of 2012. Despite being a nation that thrives on celebrity gossip, when it comes to sharing celeb-driven news and pictures, it accounted for just 2 per cent of shared content and prompted a feeling of contempt in nearly half (44%) of respondents.

The single biggest motivator to share is to make people smile (45%) and three out of four pieces of content (75%) is shared to make recipients feel happiness or to surprise them. In a show of selfless sharing, 45 per cent of us share to make the recipient feel happy, whereas only a third (31%) of people share because it makes them feel happy, revealing that giving happiness is more important than receiving it. A further 68 per cent agree that sharing provides a sense of belonging to a community.

“It’s really rewarding to stumble upon something online that you know a friend will enjoy and share it with them, whether it’s a cute picture of a cat, the latest Harlem Shake video or the downright daft stuff that we simply love. Additionally with increasing smartphone ownership people are creating their own content and sharing personal experiences instantly with their friends and family,” said Oliver Topley, Head of Insights at Three.

By far the most shared type of mobile content is personal photos. A huge 20.6 million are shared each week, followed in second place by cute pictures of animals which account for 7.2 million photos shared (34% of which are self-generated e.g. pet photos). From holiday happy snaps, ‘selfies’ (self portraits) and foodie photos to Lolcats and viral videos, only a mere 3 per cent of the mobile diary respondents weren’t actively sharing or receiving.

Dr Alain Samson, a psychologist associated with the London School of Economics and ECSP Europe[3] commented, “The findings seem to reflect the fact that mobile devices fulfil a more in-the-moment kind of communication function, allowing people to share experiences as they happen.

“Past studies have identified more self-serving motives as one factor behind the sharing of online content: passing on interesting, entertaining and funny content reflects positively on the sender. But sharing personal content implies a more intrinsic motivation with greater emphasis on nurturing relationships and generating reciprocity.”

Mark Earls, author of ‘Herd’, co-author of ‘I'll Have What She's Having’, and an expert on social influence and interaction said of the study, “Most of the sharing people do is with people they know. And it's not about the thing they're sharing, it's about the relationship. Anthropologists call this “phatic” communication. The important thing in phatic communication isn't the information that is being transmitted. It's just a way of saying ‘I'm here, are you there? Are you ok?’ It's a way of keeping the channels open between people.

“A generation ago people did it with mix tapes – the individual songs weren't the important thing, it was the meaning that this gesture created in the relationship between sender and receiver. And it looks like now we do it with sharing content on mobiles."

While most sharing intentions are kind, there is a devilish divide for some. Almost one in four (23%) share with the intent to provoke and nearly one in five (18%) share to draw attention to themselves. One respondent quipped, “Sent a picture of a super-scrimpers poster to my partner because she’s so stingy!”, another wanting to make a friend jealous, “Because they had less snow in their garden!”, while another sent a humorous wisdom tooth meme to poke fun at their boyfriend’s wisdom tooth that was “Growing weird”.

“Sharing silly stuff to make people smile is something that smartphones and our Ultrafast network is at the forefront of facilitating,” continued OIiver Topley from Three. “On average our customers are using 1.3GB data per month3 which suggests that using your smartphone to share content and be connected really matters.”

Shared content in an average week by type of content shared

Personal photos

20.6 million

Animal photos

7.2 million

Offers and promotions

7 million

Viral/funny pictures

4.8 million

News stories

3.8 million


2.9 million

Viral/funny videos

2.6 million


2.1 million


15.8 million

The full report on mobile social sharing, including detail on the study’s methodology, can be downloaded here.

[1] Study by BrainJuicer in January/February 2013

[2] Google trends analysis

[3] ESCP Europe was established in 1819, it is the World's First Business School

3 Three Network Intelligence data, average usage per contract customer Sept – Dec 2012

Contact information.

James Rowe
James Rowe
Job Title
3 Monkeys
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About Three

Three is a communications company focused on bringing the benefits of the internet to mobile.  We offer attractive pricing, all-you-can eat data packages, market-leading devices and a network built for data. Combined, this gives our customers the widest choice of ways to stay connected to the mobile internet.

Our high speed, DC-HSDPA network already covers 80% of the UK population and we will be adding LTE 4G services to the network later this year. HSPA+ technology, covers 98% of the UK population. We will add 4G to our network from December 2013, with 50 cities covered by the end of 2014 and 98% of the population covered by 4G by the end of 2015.

Today, we have over 13,400 sites in our network and plan to add another 5,000 by 2015 to bring improved mobile internet capacity to more people in more places than ever.

Three UK is a member of the HWL group of companies, with investments in mobile operations in Australia, Austria, Denmark, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Macau, Sri Lanka, Sweden and Vietnam.

To find out how we intelligently manage data traffic on our network, please visit

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BrainJuicer is an independent market research agency with headquarters in London and a total of 14 offices in 11 countries worldwide. Founded in 1999 by "Chief Juicer" John Kearon, BrainJuicer specialises in translating a generation of breakthroughs in psychology, behavioural economics and social sciences into Juicy tools that better understand and predict people's behaviour. BrainJuicer has won multiple awards for its tools and research, most recently a Best Paper award from the industry's ESOMAR Congress for "Research in a World Without Questions" exploring how researchers can use new tools to uncover insights without asking direct questions.