It was a tale of two very different stories leading the blogosphere last week. One, an Internet security breach with global implications, revealed the communal nature of the social media that allows users to alert and even try to protect one another. The other, President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize, highlighted the blogosphere’s proclivity for commentary and opinion that runs the gamut from racial to philosophical.
On Monday, October 5, BBC News reported that thousands of email accounts had been compromised as their passwords had been posted online. In a scheme commonly referred to as "phishing," Internet scammers persuaded unsuspecting victims to pass along their private email account information, which was then posted on a public Web site. By Tuesday, the BBC reported the scam had compromised at least 30,000 email addresses around the world.
The story galvanized bloggers around an event that the mainstream press had all but ignored. For the week (October 5-9), fully 45% of the links to news-related stories from blogs were about that subject, according to the New Media Index from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, one of the biggest stories of the year in social media. That number, indeed, was the fifth-largest weekly total for any particular story this year, and the highest for any subject since the political protests in Iran made up 63% of the top blog links the week June 15-19.
Most of the bloggers who linked to reports about the security violation felt it was their duty to share the information as a warning to their readers, and a number used the opportunity to give advice about online security.
On Friday, however, the focus in the blogosphere shifted abruptly following the news early in the morning in the United States that President Obama had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. For the week, the Nobel story was the fourth largest with 8% of the links. But that number understates the burst of attention to the subject. On Friday morning, just hours after the announcement was made, 37% of the links from blogs were about that subject. And by Friday afternoon, 81% of the links to the top news stories were about the prize.
Most bloggers expressed surprise at the unexpected award and questioned what Obama had done to earn it, although a few did share their excitement about an American president receiving such a high honor.
The other leading topics for blogs were an eclectic mix. The second-biggest story, receiving 9% of the links, involved a CNN.com report about NASA scientists who discovered a nearly invisible ring around Saturn so large that it could hold 1 billion Earths. A story about Somali pirates who were captured after mistakenly attacking a French navy ship finished third (also accounting for 9%).
Meanwhile, the subject of Afghanistan, the No. 1 topic in the mainstream press, finished as the No. 5 topic in the new media. Most of the links took readers to an October 4 column by former United Nations representative Peter Galbraith in which he criticized the U.N.’s handling of the Afghan elections.
On Twitter last week, as measured by the tracking site Tweetmeme, the trend of a technology focus of the news links continued as the top four stories were all Web-related. And almost all of the top links were to reports from the same source-the Web site CNET News.
The top Twitter subject, representing 20% of the links to news accounts, was about developers who would be releasing a Flash programming application for the mobile iPhone device. Second, at 14%, were two reports about social networking research, one of which indicated that the majority of people who use social networking are women and the other which indicated that more than half of U.S. workplaces block networking sites.
The third leading story was about Twitter itself, receiving 9% of the links. It was another CNET News report on how Twitter was in negotiations with Google and Microsoft to share its real-time, content-sharing information. And fourth, at 7%, was the story that the Federal Trade Commission would be tracking giveaways by bloggers and Facebook fan pages.
Email Phishing Scam
When bloggers wanted to talk about the scam that compromised thousands of private email accounts, most of them linked to reports on BBC.com. Some attempted to explain how the scheme worked.
"So how did they do it?" asked M. Bamieh at Thoughtpick.com. "Apparently, people are still not able to tell the difference between an authentic website and a phishing website. Most of the compromised accounts on the list were obtained using fake websites that ask for your login and password to authenticate your account. While campaigns educating the user on how to better protect himself or herself from phishing scams have been running nonstop for the past 5 years, they can’t be blamed for falling for such scams."
More of blog posts on the subject however, simply passed along the word that a security violation had occurred.
"This is to bring to the notice of our readers that a large number of Hotmail accounts have been exposed recently," warned MashYep!, a blog about social media. "It so happens that some one posted a list of 10,000 usernames and passwords to a code sharing site…Though the list has been removed experts suggest there is still a considerable threat."*
Some added advice about online security.
If people haven’t changed their "free email account password yet, please DO IT RIGHT NOW," urged SeanTan Marketing.
"It obviously bears repeating; NEVER give out your username and/or password to anyone. Ever. Not by phone, email, snail mail or in person," added the Enertiahost Blog. "Legitimate companies will never solicit you for your personal information, so assume that if you are ever contacted and any personal information is requested that it is a scam."
Obama’s Nobel Prize
When the news came early Friday morning that the President had won the Nobel Prize for peace, bloggers took to their keyboards.
Critics of Obama blasted the award, and the language and tone was often harsh and sometimes turned to race.
"Un-frickin’-believable," exclaimed Liberty Pundit. "The man is in office about ten months and they give him an award. For what? What has he done, other than go around blaming America?"
"So it seems our very own Obama-fool, the penultimate proof positive that affirmative action uses race as a launching pad to propel folks into positions for which they’re unqualified, has won the Nobel Peace Prize," wrote Vox Phileosophos. "One could easily approach this as theatre of the absurd, insofar as the Obama-fool hasn’t accomplished anything worthy of the prize."
Even some supporters questioned whether the President deserved it, something Obama himself did, as well.
"There is absolutely no reason for The Big O. to have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize," declared Sleeping with Pengovsky. "I like the guy, but yesterday’s decision of the Nobel Prize Committee was completely unfounded. In case you forgot, the guy has been in office for only nine months and although he has set out an impressive agenda, he understandably has little to show for."
Some bloggers, like those cited in the mainstream press the same day, speculated about the motives behind the Nobel Committee’s decision.
"I believe the Nobel Committee used the prize to send the United States a message," posted Aaron Kaufman at the Beltway Perspective. "Simply put, the world was sick of America’s ‘we know what’s best for you and we’ll ram it down your throat’ attitude. We have come across for far too long as a war-mongering, ethnocentric nation that uses military might as a diplomacy tool. What Obama represents is a wave of change in our relations with the rest of the world."
And some expressed optimism that the award could ultimately have positive consequences.
"Let’s hope that the action that the President takes as a result of this call might make a real difference," added Dade Cariaga. "Maybe we can see an end to the violence in Afghanistan and Iraq. Maybe we can make some progress toward a just and fair peace in Palestine. Maybe we can initiate global, international responses to some of the big problems that face our species."
The story, which led the network news and dominated cable news that day, touched a similar, if even more sensitive, nerve in the new media.
In the more visual side of the new media, however, it was a different topic that seemed to provoke the most interest. The most viewed news video on YouTube last week concerned the scandal involving popular CBS late night talk show host David Letterman. On his October 1 show, Letterman claimed he has been the victim of an extortion plot and confessed to having affairs with staffers.
The particular news clip appeared on the October 2 edition of CBS News’ Early Show and included part of Letterman’s confession. The report also featured an interview with celebrity publicist Michael Levine, who offered some advice for how Letterman could effectively deal with the situation.
Interestingly, Letterman’s network tried to halt the spread of the viral video. According to the New York Times, CBS worked to remove any copies of Letterman’s confession from YouTube despite the fact that many other CBS clips are easily available on the popular video-sharing site.
Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube
For the Week of October 3-9, 2009
1. An October 2 report from CBS’ Early Show about the alleged extortion plot involving late night host David Letterman
2. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper gives a surprise performance of a Beatles’ song with famed cellist Yo Yo Ma
3. A local news report from Portland, Oregon, about Chrissy Steltz, a woman recovering from facial surgeries ten years after being shot in the face
4. CNN reporters express surprise at the October 2 announcement that Chicago would not be hosting the 2016 Olympics
5. Reporters on the Chicago television station WGN react to the Olympic announcement
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 has launched the New Media Index as 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, using 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 (50 stories in all 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. This process allows us to compare the New Media commentary, based on the Icerocket list of links, with the commentary in the traditional press. 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 monitored the tracking site Tweetmeme. Similar to Icerocket and Technorati, Tweetmeme measures the number of times a link to a particular story or blog post is tweeted and retweeted. Then, as we do with Technorati and Icerocket, PEJ captured 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 lists used on Technorati and Icerocket offer the top links over the previous 48 hours.)
The Project also tracks the most popular news video 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.
 For the New Media Index, the lists of most linked-to news stories are collected weekdays at 9:30 am. The data collected Friday, October 9, at 2:00 pm is not part of the aggregated data for the week.