February 26, 2009

Bloggers Grade Obama, Revolt over Facebook

PEJ New Media Index February 16-20, 2009

While traditional media were overwhelmingly focused on the economy last week, bloggers and social media were much less single minded. The No. 1 subject was still politics, in particular critiques of Obama’s early performance in office, though it was a much smaller subject than in the mainstream media.

But a good many bloggers and others were also focused on a policy change made and then withdrawn at Facebook, which demonstrated the power of social media.

Topic A was discussion of how Obama was faring in his first month in office. The subject made up 16% of the links found in the New Media Index of Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism for the week of Feb. 16-20. The second-largest story, comprising 10% of the links, was the ongoing financial crisis, though the focus last week moved from the stimulus bill to such matters as the banking industry and housing crisis.

Nearly as big as the economy, however, was a subject ideal for online discussion. Fully 10% of the links were to articles about a controversy regarding the immensely popular social networking site Facebook, which changed, and then changed back, its terms of service language. The story made it into the mainstream press, but only days after it had erupted online.

Close behind was discussion of another story, not absent from the mainstream press but certainly not as prominent–the gruesome tale of a founder of an upstate New York television station who was arrested on suspicion of beheading his wife. That filled 8% of all the links identified.

And showing remarkable shelf-life, the fifth-largest story last week close behind (at 7%) was the same New York Times article that was second the previous week and described how consumers could save when shopping for eyeglasses. The article included a small reference to online retailer Zenni Optical. Fans of the retailer kept the story in the blogosphere and social media slipstream, making it the only story other then the President and the economy to be in the top five for the second straight week.

The traditional media by contrast were far more single-minded according to PEJ’s News Coverage Index. Fully 40% of the newshole was focused on the economic crisis, more than twice that of the next four stories combined. (That is also four times larger than it was in the blogosophere.)

These are some of the findings of PEJ’s New Media Index for the week of Feb. 16-20. The index is an effort to monitor the content appearing in new media platforms. The biggest element of this Index is what appears in the more than 100 million blogs and other social media web pages concerned with national news and public affairs tracked by two monitoring sites, Technorati and Icerocket. Both track the commentary online by identifying what news stories bloggers and other websites link to. Each weekday, PEJ captures the top linked-to stories and analyzes their content. It then compares those findings with the results of its weekly analysis of more mainstream media, the weekly News Coverage Index. The Project also tracks the most popular news videos on YouTube each week.

After a month in office and with the stimulus bill passed, the blogosphere turned to a first evaluation of the Obama presidency. That evaluation was both impassioned and so thoroughly in the eye of the beholders it was hard to think they were discussing the same event.

Conservatives felt last week they had found an example of hypocrisy in the President’s personal conduct. Their evidence: a Feb. 15 New York Post article highlighting the fact that despite expressing urgency for Congress to pass the stimulus, Obama and his wife spent the weekend in Chicago enjoying a fancy Valentine’s Day dinner before signing the bill.

"We were told that the stimulus bill which was blasted through Congress was so important that it could not even be read!" exclaimed J.J. Jackson at Liberty Reborn. "Yet despite the doom and gloom that without this important bill being made law immediately (all lies by the way) and the threat of economic collapse without action, Obama quickly skirted out of town for three days without even signing it."

"I do believe we’re in an economic crisis," added Dalton McCallum at The American Pundit. "But it’d be nice if the man in the White House actually began treating it as one outside of his stump speeches pushing for a trillion-dollar pork-laden spending bill."

Liberals were far more interested in a Feb. 15 CNN.com article, which quoted Republican senators, including John McCain, as declaring that Obama was off to a bad start by not delivering the change and bipartisanship he had promised.

"Bad start? Let’s review for a minute," ruminated Kirk Caraway. "Obama got almost exactly the stimulus bill he first proposed, and the polls show Americans approve of the job he’s doing by almost 70 percent. The GOP congress critters on the other hand have approval rates at half that…What did the Republicans bend on? Nothing, nada, zip. They had no intention of negotiating in good faith. And now they are trying to spin this as a defeat for Obama."

Senseitim was even more pointed. "Too bad. I say ignore ‘bipartisanship’. The Republicans lost, anything they say is sour grapes. Ignore them, Mr. President, and get on with the job!"

When New York Times columnist Frank Rich wrote a Feb. 15 piece arguing that in the stimulus bill’s passage Obama had once again "outwitted the punditocracy and the opposition," supporters of the President found even more to crow about.

"I do believe I have been saying for some time that Barack Obama is a master at making his opposition do his work for him, while they think they are helping themselves," proclaimed Blogger Interrupted.

Facebook Controversy

If the Obama presidency illustrates the Rashomon quality of social media, the Facebook controversy illustrated both a subject on which it tends to agree, and its power to affect events. When the popular online social networking site Facebook, which includes an estimated 175 million users worldwide, changed its terms of service, a small online revolution erupted.

On Feb. 15, a post on Consumerist, a blog associated with the advocacy group Consumers Union, identified changes in wording for Facebook’s terms of service. "Facebook’s terms of service (TOS) used to say that when you closed an account on their network, any rights they claimed to the original content you uploaded would expire," warned the post. "Not anymore. Now, anything you upload to Facebook can be used by Facebook in any way they deem fit, forever, no matter what you do later. Want to close your account? Good for you, but Facebook still has the right to do whatever it wants with your old content. They can even sublicense it if they want."

A good many Facebook users were outraged and thousands threatened to close their Facebook accounts. A number of bloggers linked directly to the Consumerist post and the Facebook language during the first days of the controversy. Many online were discussing the change even before it hit the mainstream press. By the time the issue appeared in a Feb. 17 New York Times article, the online condemnation was fully underway.

"I think the said change of terms is a BIG issue," expressed madhavgopalkrish at My Green Meadows. "in the face of society of information and flow of availability, the act of facebook is unthinkable. They are providers (and earn much from that) and not owners of the information that flows through the system."*

"By arguing they need to retain their license to your content even after you want the content removed from the system, and by couching this in terms of the belief that ‘no system can really let you conrol your information’, Facebook’s philosophy seems little more than lip service," Michael Zimmer, Ph.D., added at michaelzimmer.org.

On Feb. 18, when CNN.com reported that Facebook had reversed its policy and returned its language to a previous version, many commentators felt it was a victory for the online community.

"I have gone back to importing this blog to my FaceBook page," posted Laurie Halse Anderson at Mad Women in the Forest. "I hope this is a sign that the newest generation of business executives see the value of integrity."

"This uproar shows that people believe that shared content, including photos and messages should be fully owned by the individual who created this content. Bottom line!" pronounced Raquel Krouse at the Future of Media.

Some bloggers saw the entire episode as an opportunity to draw a larger lesson.

"Don’t be sharing anything anywhere online that you wouldn’t want exposed publicly in some way," advised Mari Smith at Why Facebook? "My rule of thumb on Facebook, Twitter and beyond is: ‘Would I be cool with this showing up on the front page of the New York Times, found in a Google search or seen by my grandchildren in a couple decades’ time??’ If ever the answer is no, the data simply does not go online."

Top YouTube Videos

The PEJ New Media Index also tracks the most popular news videos on YouTube each week.

Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube

February 14 – 20, 2009

1. Japanese finance minister, Shoichi Nakagawa, appears drunk at a G7 conference

2. House Republican leader John Boehner drops the 1,100 page stimulus bill on the floor to demonstrate outrage over the size of the package

3. CNN reporter Zain Verjee makes an unfortunate mispronunciation during a report on airline food

4. CNN video of an unknown fiery object blazing through the sky

5. 911 tape from CBS of the frantic call made during the chimpanzee attack in Connecticut

The most viewed news video the week of February 14-20 was of a recent appearance by Japanese finance minister Shoichi Nakagawa at a G7 conference where he appeared to be drunk and falling asleep. Nakagawa claimed he was not drunk, but instead his unusual performance was a result of a mixture of jetlag and a cough medicine. Nonetheless, he later announced he would resign his position later this year.

Note: The actual video of the Japanese finance minister that ranked first was removed from YouTube due to a copyright claim. The video posted here is from MSNBC and is similar to the original video.

 



The New Media Index is a weekly report that captures the leading commentary of blogs and social media sites focused on news and compares those subjects to that of the mainstream press.

PEJ is launching the New Media Index as a companion to its weekly News Coverage Index. Blogs and other new media are an important part of creating today’s news information narrative and in shaping the way Americans interact with the news. The expansion of online blogs and other social media sites has allowed news-consumers and others outside the mainstream press to have more of a role in agenda setting, dissemination and interpretation. PEJ wanted to find out what subjects in the national news the online sites focus on, and how that compared with the narrative in the traditional press.

Two prominent Web tracking sites, Technorati and Icerocket, monitor more than 100 million blogs and over 250 million pieces of social media, using the links to articles embedded on these sites as a proxy for determining what these subjects are. Using this tracking process as a base, PEJ staff compiles the lists of links weekday each day. They capture the top five linked-to stories on each list (50 stories in all each week), and reads, watches or listens to these posts and conducts a content analysis of their subject matter, just as it does for the mainstream press in its weekly News Coverage Index. It follows the same coding methodology as that of the NCI. This process allows us to compare the New Media commentary, based on the Technorati and Icerocket list of links, with the commentary in the traditional press.

The priorities of the bloggers are measured in terms of percentage of links. Each time a news blog or social media Web page adds a link to its site directing its readers to a news story, it suggests that the author of the blog places at least some importance on the content of that article. The user may or may not agree with the contents of the article, but they feel it is important enough to draw the reader’s attention to it. PEJ measures the topics that are of most interest to bloggers by compiling the quantitative information on links and analyzing the results.

While the News Coverage Index is comprised of primarily U.S.-based media outlets, the aggregators of blogs and other social media include both U.S. and non-U.S. blogs. In addition, stories that are linked to can be from non-U.S. sources. However, according to PEJ’s research over the last two months, the only non-U.S. news stories included in the top lists for Technorati and Icerocket have been the BBC (whose Web site is part of the News Coverage Index) and the Guardian.

The Project also tracks the most popular news video on YouTube each week.

*For the sake of authenticity, PEJ has a policy of not correcting misspellings or grammatical errors that appear in direct quotes from blog postings.

Note: PEJ’s weekly News Coverage Index includes Sunday newspapers while the New Media Index is Monday through Friday.