Espousing a unique mix of politics, technology, free speech and transparency, WikiLeaks has captured the attention from bloggers in a way few stories ever do. It has been a focus of social media conversation for three weeks this month alone, with a discussion that moved from one dimension to the next. After centering on political blame, the value of exposing government secrets, and the importance of a free press, the debate took on yet a new angle last week.
For the week of December 20-24, more than a third (35%) of the news links on blogs were about the controversy, making it the No. 1 subject, according to the New Media Index from the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism.
Most of the conversation last week, however, focused on an investigation launched by the CIA. But rather than discussing the consequences of such an inquiry, bloggers centered on the name of the panel - the WikiLeaks Task Force - which resulted in the acronym WTF - a phrase more commonly known for its usage as part of internet slang.
"And the most aptly named task force ever, award goes to...drum roll please....Wikileaks Task Force a.k.a WTF," joked Word Vomit. "Personally I could care less but how freaking cool would it be to flash a badge and say WTF mate?!"*
"What impact the WTF will have in this very broad debate over Wikileaks remains to be seen," added Drew Wilson at Zero Paid. "In the mean time, I'll be trying not to laugh every time WTF is brought up for the next little while - a challenging task to say the least."
"I'd imagine the CIA wouldn't be having so much fun with this issue if their files were caught up in the Wikileaks backwash, but the CIA refused to put its information on SIPRNET and spared itself the damage," wrote Ron Hogan at Popular Fidelity.
Another discussed element this week was the BBC interview with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Most bloggers came to Assange's defense - criticizing the interview as overly personal and expressing disbelief in the sex crimes accusations Assange is facing.
In previous weeks, the overwhelming position online has been in support of WikiLeaks and notion of transparency. That subtext pervaded last week as well despite the criminal charges facing the controversial figure.
"The interviewer is SO obnoxious you want to knock his block off," complained neufneuf referring to the personal nature of some of the questions asked of Assange.
"In the BBC's interview with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, we learn that he's a martyr, a player, a gentleman, perfectly happy with himself, and oh yes - people associated with Wikileaks have been assassinated. The interviewer doesn't even blink at that one; no follow-up question," noted Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs.
While not the major focus for bloggers, some supporters of WikiLeaks expressed their belief that Assange was innocent of the charges.
"It should go without saying that I do not approve of Assange's behavior if the allegations against him are true. Nevertheless, I still believe the allegations are very convenient for the powers that be," declared Sky Dancing.
"Many people have noted that one can support WikiLeaks as an organization without supporting Assange as an individual, and that's certainly true," argued The Freedom Bulletin. "But I support both ...Although obviously not the most pure and chaste person in the world, he is brave, intelligent, principled, and honorable...and not a rapist."
"Julian Assange of WikiLeaks has my vote for the 2010 Sexiest Man Alive," pronounced Lothlaurien's Lore. "Because he is a freedom fighter. It doesn't get any sexier than freedom."
The Repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell"
The second largest subject on blogs, with 15% of the links, was the Senate's passage of a bill to repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy requiring gay and lesbian troops to conceal their sexual orientation. Bloggers overwhelmingly cheered the action as a positive step against discrimination.
"‘Don't ask, don't tell' has been repealed. It was a long time coming, but it happened!!!" cheered Jennifer at Ooh Fancy That.
"I have long believed that once gays and lesbians are allowed to serve openly and proudly in its armed forces, other types of discrimination against them in the USA will begin to crumble," applauded Donald Philip Walker at exaro. "A nation that revers its men and women in uniform, as does the USA, can hardly then foster or tolerate prejudice against those same men and women."
"Now people of all sexual orientation can serve their Country and those who cannot serve next to fellow gay soldiers can turn in their commission," pronounced Native and Natural Born Citizenship Explored. "Bye bye and good riddance."
While in the small minority, a few online voices opposed the development.
"I'm not celebrating this decision," wrote Shane Vander Hart at Caffeinated Thoughts. "When our men and women are in combat we shouldn't be treating the military as a social experiment...The fact is the military has discriminated for years. It has to have standards, and no not everybody can or should serve. Congress has harmed military readiness, not helped."
Other Major Stories
The third largest story, with 9% of the week's links, was another story featuring free speech online. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez defended his plans to impose broadcast-like regulations on the internet. Critics charge that the rules will restrict freedoms.
Fourth (at 7%) was a Washington Post article about an environmental study that found the probable carcinogen hexavalent chromium in the drinking water of 31 out of 35 major cities examined.
That was followed by another Washington Post story (at 6%) about the administration's actions surrounding Guantanamo Bay. According to the report, the Obama administration is preparing an executive order to formalize indefinite detention without trial for some detainees despite previously announced plans to close the military detention center.
On the social networking site Twitter, the future of news media, social networking, and gadgetry were the major subjects of conversation.
The most linked to subject, with 21% of the news links posted in Tweets, was a column by Mashable writer Vadim Lavrusik predicting 10 major developments in news media for 2011. Among his predictions is the expansion of the "leakification" of journalism following the example of WikiLeaks. He also foresees the death of the "foreign correspondent" and that news organizations will get smarter with social media and tablet devices.
The No. 2 story (at 10%) was a Mashable list of 40 resources available for users of social media. The list includes a wide range of pages from a video on how to use Twitter's advanced search functions to suggestions for gloves well-suited for users of touch screen gadgets.
Also at 10% were two stories about Apple applications. One was news that the mapping company TomTom released an updated iPhone app where users can make changes to street names and directions, and then share those changes with others. The other story was about the movie ticketing company Fandango's release of an app that allows iPad users to view trailers and buy tickets from their device.
A CNET giveaway of 5 prototypes of Google's highly anticipated Chrome OS Netbook even before the product is available for sale was fourth at 9%. That was followed by a Mashable list of rugged gadgets able to survive the rigors of the outdoors at 7%.
The two most viewed news clips on YouTube last week were of the same dramatic and violent event.
On Tuesday, December 14, a school board meeting for the Bay District Schools in Florida was interrupted by a gun wielding man named Clay Duke. After a few tense minutes, Duke was shot by a security official. He then turned the gun on himself and was pronounced dead shortly thereafter.
Despite firing at the board members at close range, Duke did not injure anyone.
The drama of the encounter was caught on live video and available on the internet quickly. (A CNN report about the incident is available here.) A number of television stations showed segments of the video, although networks differed in their treatment of the most violent moments.
A link to the live video is available here. WARNING: The video contains graphic images.
Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube
For the Week of December 18-24, 2010
1. Footage from the shooting that occurred at a December 14 Florida school board meeting
2. A shorter clip of the school board meeting shooting
3. Mexican news report about an activist murdered in Chihuahua
4. A 12-second clip of a man who is thought to be the suspect who robbed the Bellagio Casino in Las Vegas on December 14
5. A testy exchange during an Italian television talk show
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.