July 7, 2011

Social Media Users Debate a Tea Party Favorite

PEJ New Media Index June 27- July 1, 2011

Michele Bachmann, the Tea Party favorite who formally announced her presidential candidacy on June 27, created a major buzz in social media last week, registering as the dominant subject on blogs as well as a hot topic on Twitter. Most of the commentary was highly critical.

From June 26 to July 1, fully one-third (33%) of the news links on blogs were about Bachmann, making her the No. 1 subject, according to the New Media Index from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. And in a rare case of the same subject interesting both bloggers and Tweeters, the Minnesota Congresswoman was the No. 5 story on Twitter.

Bachmann was also a major newsmaker in the mainstream press last week, where much of the coverage discussed her emergence as a significant force in the GOP field. But bloggers and Twitter users eschewed that horserace angle and instead largely criticized her for what they saw as gaffes and hypocrisy.

The two main storylines that grabbed the attention of bloggers were Bachmann receiving government aid despite her condemnation of government handouts and the candidate’s confusion of John Wayne, the actor, with John Wayne Gacy, the serial killer.

Other stories that were popular on blogs for the week included a piece about San Francisco weighing the decision to ban the sale of pets in second place (17%). An article critical of former vice-president Al Gore’s failure to advance the green movement was in third, at 14%.

Wrapping up the top five stories on blogs were two economic topics. The fourth-biggest was about California Democrats passing an austerity budget for the state (12%). The No. 5 story was about austerity measures in financially troubled Greece and public workers on strike in the UK (10%).

The economy in Britain was also one of the top stories on Twitter for the week, in fourth place with 9% of news links.

Google’s new Tool is the Talk of Twitter

On Twitter the new Google+ social networking tool took top billing, with 35% of news links for the week. Tweeters were mostly excited about the new Facebook competitor, especially when it came to the issue of privacy.

A June 28 Wired article about how Google+ has better privacy features than Facebook  triggered several tweets.

“OK meet you all over at Google+ (shhh! don’t tell facebook),” wrote Tony Blass.

Other tweets linked to a lengthy Wired article about Google+, and tweeters alerted their followers that it was a hefty piece.

“a long & fantastic read on the Google+ team, project & changing company culture,” wrote Jenn Van Grove.

The No. 2 story on Twitter, with 11% of links, was about global warming, all from British publications. The articles included a Guardian story about Prime Minister David Cameron being prodded to end his silence on climate change by a former chief scientific advisor to the government; an Independent article about scientists saying that climate change is undeniably linked to extreme weather; and another Guardian piece on a climate skeptic receiving a million dollars from oil companies.

Most of the Twitter users who responded in this discussion agreed about the real dangers of global warming.

In third place, with 9% of links, were stories about a British government hacking of al Qaeda’s website, replacing bomb instructions with cupcake recipes.

The fourth-biggest topic (9%) was about the British economy, with a government official (Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith) urging Britons to hire unemployed Britons rather than relying on foreign workers.

And at No. 5 (6%), was the story about Michele Bachmann’s husband getting $137,000 in Medicaid funds.

Michele Bachmann

Coming off a strong debate performance on June 13 and with polls showing her among the GOP frontrunners in Iowa, Michele Bachmann’s candidacy seems to have some momentum behind it.

But social media users were not impressed last week. The majority of the response came from bloggers, many of them liberal, who wrote that she was both hypocritical and gaffe prone.

One of the points of contention was that despite her stated aversion to government handouts, her family personally benefited from both farm subsidies and Medicaid funding. The mental health clinic run by her husband collected Medicaid payments of more than $137,000 since 2005, on top of $24,000 in federal and state funds that the clinic received under a state grant to train employees. In addition, her family farm-in which Michelle is a partner-received almost $260,000 in federal farm subsidies.

“[Michele Bachmann], the Tea Party darling was shown to have suckled at the teat of the government sow,” wrote Diane of Cab Drollery.

“Bachmann possess the horrible quality of not being able to admit when she makes a mistake.  I think that arrogance will be her downfall as much as her verbal/mental stumbles,” wrote Rob Kotaska on My Three Percent is Swimming.*

“What we have a problem with is Michele Bachmann constantly dissing Medicaid for adding to the welfare rolls, then finding out some of those Medicaid dollars…end up nipping and tucking and botoxing the quintessential nipped, tucked, botoxed, faux-thirty trophy Legislator who struts onto Fox News and tells Bill O’Reilly, ‘I don’t need government to be successful,'” wrote wonkronk.

“We already know Bachmann isn’t the brightest flower on the Iowa prairie. I say cut her some slack — and save the ammo for the serious candidates,” wrote EJ Perkins at The Portal.

And Twitter users agreed, tweeting their distaste of Bachmann’s husband receiving $137,000 in Medicaid funds.

“Reminds me of Paladino, Trump, etc…” wrote Brian Fessler.

“Michelle Bachmann says she hates federal assistance. But I’ve got 137,000 (dollars her husband’s clinic received) reasons she doesn’t,” wrote CJ Werelman.

There were some conservatives who weighed in, saying that it was not unreasonable for her to be accepting government aid and that the media was attacking her.

“Accusing Bachmann of confusing Good John with Bad John smacks of a media-driven contrivance. That said, when I saw the images of John Wayne and John Wayne Gacy side by side in the Los Angeles Times today, I couldn’t help but laugh,” wrote  Richard Cross at Cross Purposes, “I question whether Bachmann is qualified to be president, but I think this kind of orgiastic feeding frenzy on the part of the media will help her by making her a sympathetic character, if not a martyr, among conservatives.”


On YouTube, a supposed UFO sighting over London drew the most attention last week, generating two of the five most popular news-related videos.

The No. 1 and No. 3 videos are the same footage, bouncy clips showing white lights hovering in the skies over London on May 24, which attracted a small crowd of onlookers.


Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube
For the Week of June 25 to July 1, 2011

1. Alleged UFO spacecraft over London
2. Vancouver riot kissing couple video showing the moments preceding the photo
3. Same video of UFO sighting over London from another YouTube user
4. Al Jazeera English report on the discovery of a new uncontacted tribe in the Vale do Javari region of the Amazon
5. Ad for the 2011 Melbourne International Film Festival

About the New Media 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, 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.