August 19, 2010

Net Neutrality and the Mosque Furor Lead the Blogosphere

PEJ New Media Index August 9-13, 2010

A plan by two tech giants to regulate broadband topped the online conversation last week as bloggers roundly criticized Google for seemingly softening its support of network neutrality-the concept of treating all Internet traffic equally across a network.

For the week of August 9-13, 19% of the news links on blogs were about the net neutrality issue, according to the New Media Index from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. The catalyst was an August 10 op-ed in the Washington Post by Google chief executive Eric Schmidt and Verizon chief executive Ivan Seidenberg in which they endorsed net neutrality with one significant exception. Their proposal would allow service providers to limit uploading and downloading on wireless networks.

Initially bloggers dissected the Post piece to make sense of the nine-point plan. Once they concluded that the two companies would support neutrality for wired broadband but not for wireless networks, bloggers accused Google of selling out and violating the company’s informal motto, "don’t be evil."

Social media users-most of whom operate outside of corporate media-have closely followed the net neutrality debate. The issue first ranked among the most-linked to news stories in blogs (5th at 6% of the links) the week of April 5-9, 2010, following a federal court ruling that threatened net neutrality. And it heated up on Twitter the week of May 3-7, 2010 (4th at 8%) as users shared news of the FCC’s response – a revised regulation proposal.

The rest of the top five subjects among bloggers last week all dealt with hot button political or cultural issues.

The second-biggest story (18% of news links) was the impassioned controversy surrounding the construction of a mosque in lower Manhattan two blocks from the World Trade Center site. The conversation followed a Washington Post column by Neda Bolourchi-whose mother died aboard hijacked United Flight 175 on 9/11-in which she argued that the mosque should not be built on the site.

Bloggers who oppose the construction of the so-called Ground Zero mosque seized on Bolourchi’s piece, saying the argument against construction was even more compelling because Bolouchi herself is a Muslim.

And a Los Angeles Times story detailing the strategy Democratic leaders are using for the midterm elections ranked third at 12%. Conservatives in the blogosphere relished the opportunity to poke fun at Congressional Democrats for running not on legislative accomplishments, but against the economic policies of former President George W. Bush and the GOP.

Fourth, also at 12% of links, was a Los Angeles Times article which suggested that author Anne Rice’s public abandonment of Christianity was evidence of a broader trend-that of more people giving up on organized religion. Christian bloggers spoke out against the article as evidence of what they say is the mainstream media’s institutional opposition to religion.

The Bush tax cuts, set to expire at the end of the year, were once again a top story discussed by bloggers, at 7% of links. (In the previous week, an article about the cuts was the fourth most linked-to story, at 13% of links.) Liberal bloggers jeered a Republican plan to extend the tax cuts detailed in an article by the Washington Post. The Post cited a nonpartisan government analysis which found the plan would add $36 billion to the federal deficit.

On Twitter last week, users mostly shared stories from Mashable on new social networking features and applications. They also helped one non-tech story, a foul ball mishap during an August 9 baseball game between the Houston Astros and the Atlanta Braves, become a viral video hit.

The most popular story on Twitter (with 18% of links) was a Mashable article on the social network’s new Tweet Button, an official option embedded into external web pages that allows readers to easily share content with their followers.

Second, at 12% of the links, was another Mashable story detailing Facebook’s new photo browsing interface. The changes, available to only some users in testing last week, standardize the sizes of photos in browsing format, and simplify the process of scrolling through photo albums.

One way companies will be able to use their corporate pages on Facebook was the No. 5 topic on Twitter, at 7% of links. Mashable previewed an add-on application called Parature, which allows users to communicate with companies’ customer service departments.

Twitterers last week also displayed interest in a new media twist to an old board game-Social Media Monopoly (No. 3 at 9% of the links). The online version, developed by Crystal Gibson, makes a number of changes including substituting smartphones such as the Droid for the classic game’s railroads.

Twitter users delighted in the tongue-in-cheek references employed by Gibson, especially a joke at the expense of a fading social network. Players who run afoul of the authorities are sent to cyber jail, also known MySpace. Hasbro, the maker of the 107 year-old board game, has no involvement with Social Media Monopoly, which is marketed as an unofficial version.

The No. 4 subject, at 8% of links, was an unusual baseball event. Astros Third Baseman Chris Johnson hit a foul ball that zoomed toward a young couple in the stands. The man, identified only as Bo, sidestepped the incoming shot and his girlfriend Sarah took the impact on her forearm.  Since Bo blocked Sarah’s view of the foul ball, she never even saw it coming.

The video first appeared on Mashable.com, the website that christened the less-than-chivalrous boyfriend "Bo the Bailer." Mashable co-editor Ben Parr did take pity on the side-stepping fan. "Sure, we feel bad for the dude," Parr wrote. "But you can’t abandon your girlfriend on TV and expect to get away with it."

The video, originally on YouTube, was pulled by the site due to a copyright claim by Major League Baseball. But apparently appreciating the value of the embarrassing clip, the league has made it available on MLB’s site.  

Google, Verizon and Net Neutrality

The reaction in the blogosphere to Google and Verizon’s joint broadband proposal was exceedingly negative, and squarely focused at Google. The proposal would allow internet service providers to limit speed of wireless networks, including cellular broadband networks like 3G. Bloggers cited this as a reversal of Google’s established position on the issue.

"Principles are easy to discard, it seems, when one’s in search of the next goldmine," wrote Ryan Singel on his Wired.com blog. "’Don’t Be Evil’ can become ‘Just Don’t Be Stupid’ when you’re in first place."

Many reasoned that Google conceded wireless neutrality to Verizon because the cellular operator is the biggest seller of smartphones running the Google Android operating system.

"You’ll note that ‘protecting our multi-billion-dollar Android partnership,’ is nowhere in there," wrote Karl Bode at DSL Reports.  "And as we noted yesterday-there’s an immense arrogance in assuming the public can’t do the simple math on why neither company wants neutrality applied to wireless networks."

"So Google sold the tech world out as it hopes to keep one of the largest pushers of its Android operating system happy," wrote Stacey Higginbotham on GigaOM.

One commentator, though, was just happy to see her fellow bloggers discuss public policy. "…Suddenly policy is once again a sexy issue," Shay Colson exclaimed. "For anyone in the information field, if you’ve overlooked policy in your job until now-stop. Pay attention. Contribute. Otherwise, we all stand to find ourselves hurtling towards a bifurcated Interent unlike anything we’ve seen in the Internet’s short lifespan." *

Lower Manhattan Mosque

Neda Bolourchi’s Washington Post op-ed opposing  plans to build a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero primarily drew comments from those who agreed with Bolourchi.

These bloggers, in defending their opposition, cited Bolourchi’s argument that the mosque "would become a symbol of victory for militant Muslims around the world"

"Liberal multiculturalists and "Big L" Libertarians tell us we’re being intolerant and somehow slighting the principles on which the US was founded when we say a mosque shouldn’t be built at Ground Zero, that it will only cause strife and be a symbol of victory for those Muslims who support the jihad against the West," Phineas Fahrquar wrote at Public Secrets. "They imply that we’re being bigoted, ignorant, and Islamophobic.

Yet when lifelong Muslims themselves say the same things, shouldn’t we listen?"

Paulrevere2 at ACT! Seattle for America went farther, using Bolourchi’s words to criticize the Islamic faith. "It’s great. It’s filled with compassion and genuine ecumenical reaching out-everything that Islam isn’t."

One of the few bloggers who weighed in as a supporter of building of the mosque accused conservative critics of being disingenuous in their embrace of Bolourchi.

"It’s what they do," Wisco wrote at Griper Blade. "Faced with accusations of bigotry, the right always defend themselves by finding token members of the group they’re attacking. They aren’t racist; look, black teabaggers! They aren’t homophobic; see? Here’s an anti-equality gay. It’s supposed to be proof that the problem isn’t their prejudices, because even hated _insert group here_ buy into their unconvincing rationalizations for those prejudices."

Running Away From Their Record

Conservatives in the blogosphere took much pleasure in highlighting a Los Angeles Times report on the Democrats’ election strategy. Democratic leaders, according to the report, are urging candidates "to focus less on bragging about what they have done-a landmark healthcare law, a sweeping overhaul of Wall Street regulation and other far-reaching policy changes-and more on efforts to fix the economy and on the perils of Republican control of Congress."

"Don’t worry, their GOP opponents will ‘brag’ about it for them…" wrote Texas Patrician at The Freedom Phile.

Some suggested the marching orders were an acknowledgement that the party’s actions over the last two years would fail to win over voters.

"Thanks to a huge Democratic majority and the coordinated efforts of Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid, we now have trillions in new debt, rising medical bills, crushing unemployment figures, nationalized industries, wide open borders, and two wars being undermined by our allies’ lack of belief in American commitment," wrote Stilton Jarlsberg at Beating the Bushes.

Others doubted that the strategy —  running against George W. Bush and previous Republican economic policies — would work.

"President Obama, on the heels of so many historic legislative accomplishments, continues instead with his strategy of hoping to inspire the Democrat base with the energy and verve he thinks they’ll derive from the steady drumbeat of hammering on history," Dave Poff at The American Jingoist wrote.

YouTube

President Obama’s decision to appear on the ABC talk show The View received quick criticism in the mainstream press and now, two weeks after the July 29th airing, the fallout continues – now in a YouTube video gone viral.

In this case, the chiding mostly came from American citizens not eligible to vote: Boy Scouts.

President Obama did not attend the Scouts’ National Jamboree, in Fort A.P. Hill, Va, citing, according to blogger Der Jagger, his appearance on the View as the reason why. Instead, the president sent a pre-taped address and had Defense Secretary and Eagle Scout Robert Gatesattend in person.

The video shows Boy Scouts booing the pre-taped address.

Another political figure, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, took center stage  in the second most-viewed video of the week. in the town of Homer, Alaska while filming her TLC reality show, the former governor ran into a woman named Kathleen Gustafson, who happened to be holding a 30 by 3 foot banner reading "WORST GOVERNOR EVER."

The video was captured on a cell phone camera by Homer fisherman Billy Sullivan, who allowed Gustafson to unfurl the banner on his dock. Gustafson criticized Palin for choosing a celebrity-path over state government.

"When cash was waved in front of your face, you quit," Gustafson told Palin.

"Oh, you wanted me to be your governor… I’m honored, thank you," quipped Palin.

Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube
For the Week of July 31-August 6, 2010

1. Obama’s taped address to the Boy Scout National Jamboree booed by audience

2. Sarah Palin talks with detractor holding banner reading "Worst Governor Ever"  

3. A video of 17 year-old boy swearing at Rio de Janiero mayor Sérgio Cabral

4. A video mash-up of musical performances by Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Taylor Swift and Christina Aguilera.

5. Canadian pop star Justin Bieber is hit by water bottle thrown by an audience member during an appearance



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, which 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.