January 29, 2018

Sources Shared on Twitter: A Case Study on Immigration

1. News Organizations – especially legacy outlets – played largest role in content shared on Twitter about immigration

The internet’s anonymity and ease of publishing have allowed new voices to enter into debates over contentious issues. Yet in an era of polarized news choices, alternative facts and concern over “fake news,” it is not always clear which sources play the largest role in the debate. To help answer this question, the Center examined the information sources posted on Twitter about immigration during the first month of the Trump administration.

This study examined the most frequently appearing sites out of those linked to in all tweets about immigration during this time period. There were 1,030 different sites linked to in at least 750 tweets, which became the threshold for consideration in this study. These sites are organized into 14 mutually exclusive specific groupings and three broad categories: News Organizations, Other Information Providers and Other Sites.5

Most striking, sites in the News Organizations category – those that show evidence of publishing original reporting, such as interviews, eyewitness accounts or references to source documents in their top five most linked-to articles or the top five articles on their homepage – accounted for the largest proportion of these 1,030 sites (42%). And the legacy news organizations grouping accounted for twice as many sites as the digital-native news organizations grouping: 28% of all sites in this study compared with 14%, respectively. Almost three-in-ten are included in the Other Information Providers category (29%), predominantly the digital-native commentary/blogs (12%) and nonprofit/advocacy organizations (9%) groupings. A final 29% fell into the Other Sites category, including links to sites that no longer exist as well as consumer product entities, spam or other types of sites.

Below are the descriptions of each broad category and specific grouping.

News Organizations: 42%

Roughly four-in-ten of all sites (42%) fell into the News Organizations category. Sites in this category all show evidence of original reporting (such as interviews, eyewitness accounts or referrals to source documents) in the top five most linked-to articles on Twitter during this time period and the top five articles on their homepage when coding. Two groupings make up this category:

28% Legacy news organizations: Any news organization that was not “born on the web,” including print newspapers and television and radio broadcasting organizations. These news organizations include outlets like The New York Times, CNN and Fox News.
14% Digital-native news organizations: Any news organization that was “born on the web,” meaning their inaugural content was published online (even if they later also published broadcast or print content), and that publishes news about current events. This grouping includes politically focused news sites like Breitbart, Politico and ThinkProgress, as well as more general-interest news sites like The Huffington Post (now HuffPost) and Yahoo News.

Other Information Providers: 29%

Almost three-in-ten (29%) sites were in the Other Information Providers category, which includes sites focused on current events or public affairs information. It contains five groupings:

12% Digital-native commentary/blog sites: Sites that produce original content but do not show any evidence of original reporting in the top five most linked-to articles on Twitter during this time period and the top five articles on their homepage when coding. This grouping includes sites like Truthfeed, The American First and Zero Hedge.
9% Nonprofit/advocacy sites: Includes research organizations such as Cato Institute, broad advocacy organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and immigration-focused organizations like America’s Voice.
3% Government institution or public official sites: Includes those such as whitehouse.gov or Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s YouTube page.
3% Digital-native aggregator sites: Includes sites that do not produce original content but link to content produced elsewhere. This grouping includes sites like SnappyTV, Apple News and Drudge Report.
2% Academic/polling sites: Includes academic organizations, universities and their research centers, such as Cornell University or The University of Pennsylvania, and polling sites such as Public Policy Polling or Rasmussen Reports. Wikipedia is also defined as an academic/polling site.

Other Sites: 29%

The remaining sites did not provide current events information or could not be coded due to reasons detailed below. There were seven types of sites in this broad category that, when combined, accounted for almost three-in-ten (29%) of all sites.

7% Consumer products and internet services sites: Includes online shopping sites such as eBay.com, internet services like google.com, and file sharing sites like documentcloud.org. It also includes some companies that became part of the discussion about immigration like 84 Lumber, whose Super Bowl ad was perceived to be about immigration policy.
7% Foreign/non-English sites: Includes those that do not primarily publish English-language content or are produced outside of the United States or Europe. Several Indian sites, such as indiatimes.com and NDTV, are included in this grouping as well as sites from Israel (such as Haaretz), Australia (abc.net.au) and several other countries.
3% Spam sites: Includes sites such as potusnewss.ml that redirected to purely advertising content that did not reflect any site branding when analysis was conducted.
2% Discontinued sites: Includes sites such as magasupporters.us that did not load when analysis was conducted.
2% Content delivery tools: Includes sites such as bit.ly and dlvr.it, which provide access to other forms of content. This category only includes links whose final destination could not be reached at the time of analysis.
2% Celebrity, sports or parody/satire sites: Includes celebrity-focused sites like People, sports sites like Bleacher Report and satire sites like The Onion.
6% Other sites: These sites are those that did not fit into any of these groupings. These included tech and music sites that did not feature current events, forum discussion channels and a variety of video streaming sites.
  1. In this study, pewresearch.org met the threshold of being linked to in at least 750 tweets and was included in the nonprofit/advocacy organization grouping within the Other Information Providers category. It was not linked to in enough tweets to be broken out separately as one of the 15 most shared sites.