Leaked Documents Drive the Online Conversation
PEJ New Media Index November 29-December 3, 2010
The raging controversy over the leak of classified State Department cables generated major attention in both the blogosphere and Twitter last week. The responses highlight the differing emphases of bloggers and Twitter users.
For the week of November 29-December 3, fully 16% of the news links on blogs and 24% on Twitter were about WikiLeaks, according to the New Media Index from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. That made it the No. 2 topic on both blogs and Twitter.
Attention among social media users even tracked closely with that of the mainstream press, where the topic also ranked No. 2 last week, according to PEJ’s News Coverage Index, at 16% of the newshole.
Bloggers responded to a number of stories about WikiLeaks last week. But the one linked-to most often was a November 29 Washington Post column by Marc Thiessen. In the column, Thiessen accused the Obama administration of failing to stop the release of the documents and offering a weak response once they went public.
The bloggers that responded largely agreed with Thiessen, voicing criticism of Obama and of government overall.
“Where was the Obama administration the last two times that Wikileaks posted classified information?” wrote Silvio Canto Jr. “Why didn’t Pres BO ‘blow up’ the last two times and demand a review of controls over this classified information? Who is minding the store? It is not Pres BO!”
“We trust our Government to protect us,” griped Mad Mike, “Looks like they can not protect themselves. They are too busy running every detail of your life. It is really simple.”*
“Inaction is tacit acceptance of the destructive and criminal activities of WikiLeaks,” grumbled the Quipster, “A lack of leadership is cleary on display from the White House.”
Some bloggers chose to blame the media. “It is craven malfeasance that nobody in the Fourth Estate has issued a mea culpa for their failure of duty in service to this republic,” wrote Pascal Fervor.
On Twitter, although the subject was the same, the focus was markedly different. The stories linked-to here were not politically focused. Instead, most related to either technological or international aspects of the leak.
The greatest number of links was to a November 28 BBC article about computer hackers attacking the WikiLeaks site shortly before the release of documents. Other technology-related stories shared on Twitter included a December 1 Associated Press article about how Amazon forced WikiLeaks to stop using its computers to distribute documents and a December 2 Wired piece about the introduction of anti-WikiLeaks legislation that would make it a federal crime for anyone to publish the name of a U.S. intelligence source.
The international angles highlighted here included an article about leaked information regarding China’s frustration with military actions of North Korea and its readiness to accept Korean reunification and a story on Interpol’s ‘red notice’ for the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
The Rest of the Twitter Topics
The No. 1 story on Twitter last week was about a dramatic scientific discovery—a story that made waves on Twitter, but was barely covered in the mainstream media.
Indeed 29% of Twitter links were to stories (including this Wired article) reporting that NASA had discovered a completely new life form. The new bacterium contains a different DNA than that of any life form yet discovered on Earth. Instead of phosphorus as one its building blocks (which all of Earth’s life forms use), it uses arsenic.
According to the Wired article this discovery, “changes everything.”
The response on Twitter was generally one of excitement:
“WHOA.” Josh Shipp wrote simply.
“Flippin’ awesome!” @nelleo said.
“Crazy!” said Greg Hickman.
A few Twitterers were not as enthused. “They call it profound but surely it’s just evolution. Same as it would be on any planet,” wrote Steve Campbell.
Rounding out the top five stories on Twitter were three different Mashable articles, each at 6% of the links: A December 2 article about a BBC subscription-based iPad app for U.S. consumers; a November 30 article discussing an upcoming Verizon press conference on 4G service; and a December 1 story on the expansion plans for Groupon, a company that provides daily discounts in cities across the U.S.
The Other Top Blog Stories
The No. 1 story on blogs last week, at 17%, was the death of popular actor Leslie Nielsen, who passed away on November 28 at age 84. The one-time dramatic actor later gained fame as a deadpan comic star in Airplane! and the Naked Gun movies.
Reminiscing about the deaths of celebrities has proved to be a recurring topic in the New Media Index. The passing of actor Kevin McCarthy was the No. 2 story the week of September 13-17, 2010 and rapper Dolla was in the same slot the week of May 17-22, 2009. TV pitchman Billy Mays was a popular subject from June 29-July 3, 2009 and the death of actor David Carradine was the second story from June 1-5, 2009.
“RIP Leslie, thank you for all the laughs,” eulogized Peter Bee.
“An amazing actor and comic. America’s favorite Canadian goofball. He will definitely be missed. I cant believe that he’s gone,” wrote Soulfully Poetic.
A few bloggers quoted lines from his movies. “Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit drinking,” wrote the Daily Irrelevant.
Several bloggers also uploaded videos of Nielsen’s most popular scenes in several movies.
The third-biggest story on blogs (at 12%) was a George Will column in the November 28 Washington Post in which he argued against restricting children’s access to video games, on the grounds that it is simply a moral panic. Next, at 11%, was a December 2 Washington Post story about how federal stimulus money went to more sources than many people realized.
The fifth-biggest topic (9%) was a November 24 Washington Post op-ed by a George Washington University Law professor on why Transportation Safety Administration pat-downs and body scans are unconstitutional. One week earlier, the debate over TSA airport procedures was overwhelmingly the No. 1 topic among bloggers, at 54% of the links.
The TSA was also a major story on YouTube last week, as the second most-viewed news video showed a young boy being strip searched at an airport. The No. 3 video of the week, the November 22 edition of the Philip DeFranco Show, also mentioned the TSA pat-downs.
In the No. 1 video for the week, an incensed man in handcuffs yells at reporters in Portuguese.
Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube
2. A young boy being strip searched by the TSA while his dad stands by
3. Philip DeFranco show from November 22, 2010
4. Video of several pundits on Fox News Watch sharing jokes about Sarah Palin’s new TV show during a commercial break
5. A video from a German comedy group
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 monitors the tracking site Tweetmeme. Similar to Icerocket, Tweetmeme measures the number of times a link to a particular story or blog post is tweeted and retweeted. Then, as we do with Icerocket, PEJ captures 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 list used on Icerocket offers 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.