The GOP candidate who has consistently proven to be a favorite among social media users was among the top subjects on blogs and YouTube last week, triggering a debate about his politics and policies.
For the week of January 2-6, stories about the presidential campaign, most prominently featuring Rep. Ron Paul, constituted the No. 4 subject on blogs, according to PEJ's New Media Index. The second most-viewed news video on YouTube was also related to his campaign.
The results of the Iowa caucuses-where Paul finished third-and an opinion piece claiming Paul's libertarian beliefs present a challenge to liberals led to complex conversations on different sides of the political divide.
Some of those bloggers criticized the mainstream media for not devoting adequate attention to the Paul campaign, a fairly common view of Paul supporters. A PEJ analysis of the last six months of campaign coverage has found that the Texas Congressman received less news coverage than every GOP candidate other than Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum. He was a significant presence in just 5% of the campaign stories. (A candidate is a significant presence if at least 25% of the story is about that person.)
But online, the story is different. On blogs, Twitter and YouTube, Paul's supporters are visible, passionate and active.
Indeed, a recent PEJ study found that from May through November, Paul received significantly more positive support on blogs than any of the other presidential candidates-47% of the blog statements about him were positive, compared with 15% negative and 38% neutral.
A separate PEJ analysis found that he also received the most flattering assessments of any candidate on Twitter in the past six months, at 54% positive, 17% negative and 28% neutral.
Thus far in the 2012 campaign, it seems clear that Paul, and his libertarian message, have struck a chord in the social media universe.
Supporters of Paul disagreed over how to evaluate his third place finish, at 21% of the vote, in the January 3 Iowa caucuses. Some saw the results as hopeful. (Paul finished second, attracting 23% of the vote, in the January 10 New Hampshire primary.)
"All things considered, Ron Paul did amazing," pronounced Eric W. at The Real Effect. "When you factor in his complete lack of media coverage and backstabbing by the GOP, his results are all that much more encouraging."
"Don't listen to TV's talking heads' assessments of Ron Paul, check his record and his principles," implored David McElroy at Only Way. "He'll help us to get honest gold and silver, peace and freedom! Paul can win! Vote for yourself. Vote Ron Paul for truth, justice, and liberty for all!"
"The MAIN thing to take away from this is that RON PAUL IS ELECTABLE!!!" cheered TommyPaine, a commenter at Daily Paul. "As the campaign moves forward, more and more people will hear the Ron Paul message, see more debates, and become aware that ONLY Ron Paul is likely to BEAT Obama in the GENERAL ELECTION!"
Others hoping for an outright victory were less sanguine about the results.
"Certainly it's a disappointment," declared Tom Woods, Jr. "Some people counter that what matters are the delegates, but in my opinion what actually matters right now is momentum, and an Iowa victory would have been great in that department."
Regardless of their reaction, however, an article in Business Insider gave his followers hope and drew a lot of attention.
According to the story entitled "Ron Paul May Have Secretly Won the Iowa Caucuses," part of the campaign's plan was to not only win votes, but also to make sure that Paul supporters stuck around after the vote in order to be selected as county delegates, a strategy that might enable Paul to earn additional delegates heading into the Republican National Convention. That generated praise for the campaign's detailed planning.
"The gist is that the Paul people are very organized and made sure that their supporters stuck around after the initial counts to run for delegates to the county conventions," explained Seth at Enik Rising. "The naive campaign treats a caucus like a primary and leaves as soon as the voting is done. The smart campaign realizes that the caucus is just the first step in the selection of delegates and sticks around to try to control the post-caucus selections."
"We could conceivably, then, end up with an unknown but fairly sizable number of Paul delegates...in Tampa based on the rules in the various states," suggested Frontloading HQ. "Romney in that scenario wins the nomination but the Paul folks become increasingly likely to hold some sway over some planks in the platform."
Ron Paul as a Challenge to Liberals
Liberal bloggers, on the other hand, focused on Paul for a different reason. On December 29, Matt Stoller, a former Senior Policy Advisor to Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson, wrote a piece on the blog Naked Capitalism that sparked a philosophical debate over the tenets of liberalism.
According to Stoller, Paul represented a challenge to liberals because some of his beliefs, such as the opposition to American intervention abroad and opposition to the Federal Reserve, are progressive ideas that liberals should favor. Instead, he claims, most liberals support policies that go against these traditional liberal notions.
A few prominent liberals backed Stoller.
"Paul's candidacy forces those truths about the Democratic Party to be confronted," agreed Glenn Greenwald at Salon. "He forces into the mainstream political discourse vital ideas that are otherwise completely excluded given that they are at odds with the bipartisan consensus."
Most left-wing bloggers, however, rejected Stoller's argument regarding libertarianism.
"Stoller's post is an incoherent mess," wrote David Atkins at Common Dreams. "Liberalism is and has always been about intervention. It is the opposite of libertarianism, and always has been...Ron Paul is a detestable creature who presents no challenge at all to liberal orthodoxy properly understood."
"This progressive, at least, isn't confused by the Ron Pauls of the world," concluded Wickersham's Conscience. "Libertarianism is a doctrine for a world that hasn't existed since industrialization. It's premised on fantasies and backed by folks with serious denial issues."
Some on the left thought the debate was missing the more important point.
"If you're a single-issue voter who only cares about non-interventionism, then Ron Paul STILL isn't your guy. Why? Because Ron Paul isn't a singe-issue candidate," argued Bob Cesca. "He wants to do a lot of terrible things to you... So snap the hell out of your idealistic, tunnel-vision stupor and wise up."*
Ron Paul was also a prominent presence on YouTube last week as the second most-watched news video featured a cable malfunction that left his supporters crying foul.
On the day of the January 3 Iowa caucuses, CNN reporter Dana Bash was interviewing Cpl. Jesse Thorsen, a Paul supporter, about his foreign policy views when the satellite signal dropped and the segment was immediately cut.
For some Paul supporters, this was not a technical problem, but rather a blatant instance of censorship by corporate-owned media wishing to block anti-war views.
"You can see that they have the technology to make the feed ‘go bad' whenever they want," reasoned YouTube user solarpowerhome. "CNN says the reason for this was a failed satellite feed. When they come back to the newsroom if you look behind him on the left side there is another caucus feed that is likely using the same sat. uplink that is...grooving along just fine."
"I'm tired MSM never said and report about Ron Paul," agreed icemaxwell2000.
I know they are own by the big corporations and worj for wall street, but enogh is enugh! America WAKE UP!"
Not every Paul supporter agreed that there is a conspiracy to keep Paul from getting attention.
Addressing the claims that the GOP was stealing the Iowa election from Paul, Duncan Kunz wrote on the Intellectual Oddities Network, "I have been a Ron Paul supporter since 1988, but I learned early the difference between the way things are and the way I wanted them to be. Ron Paul did not win in Iowa because his views are too radical for some of the voters...If you think that it's some sort of plot every time things don't go your way, you are simply denying reality."
Elsewhere on YouTube, the spotlight was on a former Australian Prime Minister who eagerly hoisted an adult libation.
During a January 4 match between Australia and India at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Bob Hawke, Australia's Prime Minister from 1983 to 1991, was handed a plastic container of ale as one fan shouted "one for the country, Robert!" Without hesitation, the 82-year-old former leader took the glass and downed it as fans cheered him on. This was not the first time he had accepted an alcoholic challenge. In his autobiography, he recalled drinking two and half pints in 11 seconds during his time at Oxford University in the 1950s.
Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube
For the Week of January 4-10, 2012
(Note: Due to a technical problem with YouTube's list, the timeframe for this week is different than usual.)
Aside from politics, rumors and controversies surrounding new technologies drew significant attention in the blogosphere.
The No. 1 subject was the concept of search engine optimization, otherwise known as SEO-a process aimed at improving the visibility and presence of a web page. Bloggers linked to several articles about the technique, including a guide on noobpreneur.com about what questions a company should ask when hiring a web company to improve their site. They also highlighted a post on The Daily SEO Blog that reviewed predictions from 2011 and made new prognostications for the coming year.
Apple was the No. 2 subject as bloggers focused mostly on rumors of an important event involving the company scheduled for late January in New York. While it appeared unlikely that Apple would introduce the iPad 3 or its interactive television initiative, some speculated it would be an advertising or publishing announcement. In the previous week (December 26-30), Apple was the No. 1 subject on blogs amid speculation about a new iPhone launch in the fall of 2012.
Pictures of an art installation by Yayoi Kusama were the third-biggest subject. At the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art, Kusama painted an entire room white, and allowed children to place stickers anywhere they wanted. The piece was entitled The Obliteration Room.
The presidential campaign was fourth. In addition to the discussion of Ron Paul, bloggers linked to an interview with Rick Santorum who questioned how Barack Obama, as a black man, could not be in the pro-life camp on the abortion issue.
Google was the No. 5 story as most of the attention focused around an advertising-related controversy. The internet giant, which has a policy against paid links in search engines, conducted their own marketing campaign related to the Chrome browser. The British Guardian questioned whether this campaign violated the company's own rules regarding sponsored posts. Google responded that it never approved sponsored posts and said independent bloggers paid by Google were responsible for the marketing campaign.
The Rest of the Week's News on Twitter
On Twitter, it was another week led by international boy bands.
For the third time in the last month, the British-Irish boy band One Direction was among the most linked-to subjects. Last week it was No. 1 as fans linked to another edition of the group's video tour diary.
News that members of the Korean boy band Super Junior had taken part in a reality TV show named "We Got Married" was the second-largest subject.
A popular tweet called "RT if you Did all of these Before!!" was the No. 3 most linked-to page. The tweet, posted by @January11, asked if people had done certain mundane tasks in their life, such as walking into a room before forgetting why you were there and drawing a sun in the corner of a paper as a child. If they had, the goal was to get users to "retweet" the message so others could see it.
A correspondence regarding one customer's regrettable run-in with the online company PayPal was No. 4. According to the complaint, PayPal policy forced the buyer to destroy a classic violin because there was a dispute as to whether the item was "counterfeit."
And a video for a new song with crude lyrics by rapper Mac Miller was the fifth most popular page.
About the New Media Index
The New Media Index is a weekly report that captures the news agenda of social media, with a focus on blogs, Twitter and YouTube. These platforms are an important part of today's news information narrative and shape the way Americans interact with the news. The expansion of 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. Through this New Media Index PEJ aims to find out what subjects in the national news the online sites focus on, and how that compares with the narrative in the traditional press.
A detailed description of the NMI methodology, which was modified in August 2011, is available here.
*For the sake of authenticity, PEJ has a policy of not correcting misspellings or grammatical errors that appear in direct quotes from online postings.