July 8, 2010

Gun Rights Stir Passions in the Blogosphere

PEJ New Media Index June 28-July 2, 2010

Although Supreme Court rulings rarely have been among the top social media topics, last week’s decision bolstering the right to bear arms generated strong reaction in the blogosphere-almost all of it from cheering gun advocates.

For the week of June 28-July 2, more than a quarter (28%) of the news links on blogs were about the ruling, making it the No. 1 subject, according to the New Media Index from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Last week’s 2nd Amendment ruling limiting cities’ and states’ ability to prohibit gun ownership split the Court by a 5-4 margin along conservative-liberal lines. But there was no such divide in the blogosphere where gun rights supporters dominated, applauding the ruling as a victory for both gun owners and the Constitution. Many of them also connected the split decision to Obama’s nomination of Elena Kagan, expressing fear that the President would be able to tip the Court’s makeup and reverse similar rulings in the future.

Gun control advocates opposing the decision seemed almost completely absent from the online conversation.

Last week’s ruling marked just the second time that a Supreme Court case made the list of top stories on blogs since the NMI began in January 2009. The only other occasion came six weeks earlier. The week of May 17-21, the Court decision allowing federal officials to indefinitely hold "sexually dangerous" inmates, even after they complete their sentences, ranked 4th.

The strong reaction last week by gun rights supporters exemplifies the grassroots nature of how news stories often gain traction in the blogosphere. Be it gun control, climate change or gay marriage, individuals that care passionately about a subject often come together quickly and strongly online. And in many cases, that passion has an ideological bent as well.

The second largest subject, at 17%, was a BBC report that Finland, starting in July, would be the first country to make broadband Internet access a legal right for every citizen. The same subject resonated on Twitter last October when the country originally announced its plan.

In the current discussion, most bloggers supported Finland’s decision and expressed a desire for the U.S. to become more forward-thinking in regard to technology. A few, however, felt that making it a legal right was a socialist ideal and counter to individual freedom.

Third on blogs, at 8%, was the discovery of the remains of an ancient whale, or "giant sea monster" as some referred to it, more than 17 meters long.

Two subjects tied for fourth, each also at 8%: a BBC report about an image of the earth taken by Europe’s Goce satellite that shows the subtle but significant impact of gravity around the globe, and stories about the passing of West Virginia Democratic Senator Robert Byrd, the longest-serving member of Congress.

On Twitter last week, technology stories led the way, accounting for three of the top five topics. But the conflict in Afghanistan, and most notably President Obama’s removal of General Stanley McChrystal as top commander, also displayed its continued staying power. 

The No. 1 subject, receiving 18% of the week’s links, involved privacy concerns on the social networking site Foursquare, a location-based software program for mobile devices that allows users to "check-in" when they visit certain locations.

A programmer named Jesper Andersen discovered a privacy leak in the software and was able to track thousands of "check-ins" from people who had requested their information remain private. Anderson originally told Foursquare about the leak on June 20, and the company asked for nine days to fix the problem. Then, in a private June 28 email to Anderson, the company claimed it had fixed the problem.

But on Twitter and other websites, including Wired, the problem was far from fixed. Most posts were very critical of how Foursquare handled the incident, saying the company had put profit in front of the privacy of its users.

The second subject, at 10%, was the decision by Microsoft to stop work on its Kin phone less than two months after the product had been released.

Third, at 7%, were several stories about Afghanistan including news that Gen. Stanley McChrystal was going to retire from the Army after he was removed from commander in Afghanistan due to controversial remarks he made to Rolling Stone magazine. Twitterers also linked to a BBC report that the Taliban had ruled out any type of negotiations with NATO forces.

This marked the third week in a row that Afghanistan was among the top stories on Twitter. The week of June 14-18, Afghanistan made up 15% of the links followed by 10% the next week.

The debate in Congress over whether jobless benefits should be extended to the unemployed was fourth at 6%. That measure has been defeated in the Senate several times, most recently on June 30. That was followed, also at 6%, by a CNN report about a testy email exchange attributed to Apple CEO Steve Jobs and a customer. According to a representative from Apple, the conversation was fake.

And on YouTube, a video purporting to show graphic evidence of the oil spill’s impact on the environment was the most viewed, even as it provoked doubts about its authenticity.

Gun Ruling

The Supreme Court’s June 28 decision on the Second Amendment was a victory for gun rights advocates and widely celebrated online.

"I was delighted that the U.S. Supreme Court correctly ruled that the right to bear arms is a fundamental right that applies to the states, not just the federal government," commended sualma. "We Constitution-loving conservatives have always known that we have a right to bear arms. It is just nice to have the Supreme Court validate it and shut up the liberals who oppose gun rights."

"Up until now, gun control advocates have sought to argue that while every other amendment in the Constitution expands liberty, the Second Amendment somehow restricted it, and did not count as an individual right," added Pejman Yousefzadeh of the New Ledger. "That claim cannot be made anymore." 

"Well done Supreme Court!" cheered Roaring Republican.

Many bloggers, while pleased with the outcome, focused on the close High Court vote and the future makeup of that body.

"These 5-4 decisions make me nervous," wrote Republic-MainStreet. "All the progressives need is one more vote to socialize the country and nullify the Constitution and Bill of Rights."

"What is also significant here is the 5-4 split-that is 4 judges do not believe the Bill of Rights restrains the states," argued Pointman’s Page. "That is surely something to be concerned about! Especially if President Obama has the opportunity to name another judge to the court where the retiree is one of the 5 that voted correctly. Not that we needed another reason to make sure President Obama is a one-term engagement-but here it is anyway."

Broadband as a Legal Right in Finland

Beginning on July 1, every Finn will have the legal right to access a broadband Internet connection. In many ways this was a symbolic move, because according to the BBC, 96% of the country’s population is already online and only about 4,000 homes had yet to be connected.

Most bloggers supported Finland’s new law.

"Finland became the world leader in Internet access by making broadband every Finnish citizen’s legal right and ensuring that every citizen will have access to a 1Mbps broadband connection," noted Mike Melanson at the popular tech blog ReadWriteWeb.

Many compared Finland’s approach favorably to that of the U.S.

"I really wish our country would make such bold moves," posted Ohio blogger Jaime at IntoxiNation. "Unless America embraces the cornerstone of the 21st century economy, our economic future will remain bleak. The problem is that we have to many dinosaurs making our laws and they don’t realize that their inability to adapt is killing us. We really need to follow what the Finns have done and embrace the technology that will continue to mold our future."*

While in the minority, a few questioned the idea of making it a legal right, even if they agreed with the goal of expanding online access.

"This is how it goes in socialist societies," decided nomasir at Freedom at Bethsaida. "The list of human rights grows longer and longer until everybody has a right to three homes, beach-front vacation property, a fit and trim body, and 5 months of paid vacation. Somehow, they think that defining things as fundamental rights makes them happen … magically."

YouTube

The most popular news video on YouTube last week came from Casey Nunez, a local activist who has been posting numerous videos about the impact of the BP oil spill on Louisiana. The video, taken in River Ridge, Louisiana, shows the aftermath of a rainstorm with Nunez pointing out what he identifies as oily residue on the ground. The presumption is that the "thick" and "foamy" substances seen in the video are a result of the oil spill ravaging the Gulf Coast.

The video, which was viewed more than 750,000 times, sparked some controversy. According to a report by Tampa Bay TV station WTSP, the Science and Operations Officer of the National Weather Service, Charlie Paxton, said that the notion of black rain is a myth. It is possible, he says, that a water spout could pick up some oil particles and carry them a short distance. But that would not explain the type of conditions portrayed in the popular video.

Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube
For the Week of June 26-July 2, 2010

1. A video that purports to show rain mixed with oil near New Orleans

2. A one-minute video of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer demanding Obama secure the border

3. A collection of still photographs from the crime scene where Mexican singer Sergio ‘El Shaka’ Vega was murdered on June 26

4. A local television news report about Vice President Biden’s visit to a custard shop where he called the manager who asked him to lower his taxes a "smartass"

5. A video of inside an Ottawa apartment after a the June 23 earthquake

Note: In this week’s blog sample, there were many links to an ABC story about Hurricane Alex. However, there were significant reasons to believe that the links on blogs had been created by a computer "bot" or some other malicious mechanism, rather than a blogger. Consequently, PEJ did not include the story in this week’s Index.

 


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’s New Media Index is 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 aims 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.

A prominent Web tracking site Icerocket, whichhttp://www.icerocket.com/popular/news/ monitors millions of blogs, uses 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 (25 stories 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. Note: When the NMI was launched in January 2009, another web-tracking site Technorati was similarly monitoring blogs and social media. PEJ originally captured both Technorati’s and Icerocket’s daily aggregation. In recent months, though, this component of Technorati’s site has been down with no indication of when it might resume. 

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.

For the examination of the links from Twitter, PEJ staff monitored the tracking site Tweetmeme. Similar to Icerocket and Technorati, Tweetmeme measures the number of times a link to a particular story or blog post is tweeted and retweeted. Then, as we do with Technorati and Icerocket, PEJ captured the five most popular linked-to pages each weekday under the heading of "news" as determined by Tweetmeme’s method of categorization. And as with the other data provided in the NMI, the top stories are determined in terms of percentage of links. (One minor difference is that Tweetmeme offers the top links over the prior 24 hours while the lists used on Technorati and Icerocket offer the top links over the previous 48 hours.)

The Project also tracks the most popular news videos 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.