Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Teen Singer Gets Singed in Social Media

PEJ New Media Index July 5-9, 2010

Last week, both bloggers and Twitter users got caught up in an online prank played on a teenage pop star.

For the week of July 5-9, fully 19% of the news links on blogs, and 7% on Twitter were about an Internet prank aimed at teen idol Justin Bieber, according to the New Media Index from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

When a pop culture-oriented website,, polled users about where the 16-year-old singer should tour next, a viral campaign generated almost half a million votes for the isolated totalitarian nation of North Korea. The campaign was reportedly led by 4chan, a website that has earned a reputation for creating mischievous online campaigns.

Most bloggers and Twitterers who highlighted the story used the occasion to poke fun at Bieber while savoring the prospect of the fresh-faced singer meeting one of the world’s most infamous dictators.

Practical jokes have drawn interest from bloggers a number of times before. In April 2009, a joke played by Britain’s Guardian newspaper saying it would only report news via Twitter was the top subject one week. A week earlier, the story of an 18-year-old boy who secretly painted a 60-foot image of a male body part on the roof of his parents’ mansion was the second-largest story. And in January 2009, an article about hackers who changed a Texas road sign to warn of approaching zombies was the No. 2 story.

Beyond the Bieber prank-the No. 1 topic on blogs-two of the top five stories there revolved around the Obama Administration and the courts. One was led by conservative voices and the other by liberals.  

One story, with 11% of the links, was a Los Angeles Times report that foreshadowed a fight between the White House and the conservative leaning Supreme Court on such issues as health care reform and financial sector regulation. Conservative bloggers, who dominated that discussion, saw the High Court as the last line of defense against Obama’s liberal agenda.

The next story, also at 11%, involved the Justice Department’s lawsuit over Arizona’s new immigration law. And in this case, the online conversation was dominated by progressives who cheered the administration’s efforts to overturn the law.

Another subject that generated 11% of the links in the blogosphere was a BBC report about the first full-sky image from Europe’s Planck telescope which showed the “oldest light” in the cosmos.

Rounding out the top 5 stories, at 10%, was a Washington Post report that Democrats are, more aggressively than normal, digging up “unflattering” details about Republican candidates in the mid-term elections. According to the article this is at least in part because many do not yet have lengthy public records.

Other than the Bieber prank, the most linked-to stories on Twitter differed from blogs, though legal decisions were also a big part of the mix. At the top-with 11% of the week’s links-was the rejection by BBC’s governing body of plans to close the digital radio station 6 Music-much to the delight of many popular musicians and fans.

The second largest story, at 7%, was the ruling by Massachusetts judge Joseph Tauro that the federal law banning gay marriage is unconstitutional. Gay rights and same-sex marriage have often proven to be popular issues in the realm of social media, most notably among bloggers.

The fourth-biggest subject was a BBC story (also at 7%) about two Internet service providers who are challenging Britain’s Digital Economy Act, a controversial law intended to make it easier to track down copyright infringement online.

And fifth, at 6%, was an story about a Swiss-led experimental solar plane which completed its first ever 24-hour test flight.

And for the second week in a row, a clip relating to the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico was the most viewed news video on YouTube.  Two weeks ago, it was a video purporting to show oily rain in the Gulf region and this past week, it was a cable anchor complaining about lack of access to the story.

Justin Bieber Prank

Last week, a number of bloggers and tweets linked to a July 5 BBC report about the online campaign to vote for North Korea as the country where teen pop star Justin Bieber should tour next. The BBC’s straight reporting of the practical joke story was also a subject of conversation, although the photo captions accompanying the article suggested a more light-hearted touch.

On Twitter, almost all users who offered a comment with a link to the BBC story shared in the joke.

“this is my kind of humour! excellent (Warning; contains bieber),” tweeted Kaye Parkinson.

“4chan uses its power for good instead of evil for a change-sending Bieber to North Korea,” commented Cathie McGinn.

Some focused on the unusual photo captions used in the BBC story.

“Best captions ever from the BBC-‘It is highly unlikely Bieber would be given permission to enter North Korea,’” wrote Chris Neugebauer.

“Priceless. BBC: ‘It is not known if Kim Jong-il is a fan of Justin Bieber’s music,’”  added Aakanksha T.

On blogs, the reaction was much the same, with many of the comments dripping with sarcasm.

“It can’t be easy being Justin Bieber,” posted Nick Rowlands at Matador Life. “That super-abundance of raw, unique talent, all those adoring fans (or ‘beliebers’), the ill-timed eruptions of acne when the hormone suppressant therapy starts to wear off. And, recently, being hated on by half the Internet.”

“A touching story about how the internet has managed to bring half a million people together for a single cause,” joked A slice of love while highlighting to the BBC report. “It makes me shed a tear, it really does. There is hope yet for mankind.”

“The minute the Great Leader puts these tickets on sale, I’m going to buy 50,” predicted The PGK Blog. “I will then scalp them to North Korean hard laborers in the Coal mine regions of the North… Rumor has it they would sell for up to three days worth of food. J-Biebs is big within the Gulag state.”

While in the clear minority, a few bloggers expressed sympathy for the young star who had become the punch line of the campaign.

“HAHAHA, as sorry as I feel for the poor kid, I really couldn’t help but laugh,” admitted nevermindyou. “One of the many reasons why I’ll never understand our world-the overwhelming Bieber fever/hatred. How does a boy who looks like he has barely undergone puberty generate this much lust, anger and mirth? Go figure.”

Obama and the Courts

Two legal issues involving the Obama Administration and the judicial branch of government sparked a passionate political conversation.

The first was about potential clashes between the President’s legislative agenda and a right-leaning Supreme Court. Almost all of this conversation was led by conservative bloggers.

Their interest revolved around a July 6 Los Angeles Times report by journalist David G. Savage. The article speculated that the Supreme Court would have the last word on Obama and congressional Democrats’  “ambitious drive to regulate corporations, banks, health insurers and the energy industry.”

“Even if Republicans succeed in retaking the House and Senate … much of the legislation passed by the very liberal Democrat Congress and signed into law by Obama will be impossible to uverturn with a veto,” Mike’s America commented. “Fortunately, our Founding Father’s designed one more safety valve to keep radical aberations like Obama’s election from destroying our democracy. The Supreme Court is still the last bastion of defense of the U.S. Constitution.”*

Many bloggers took solace in the fact that conservatives on the Court will hold a 5-4 majority for some time regardless of whether Elena Kagan is confirmed as a Justice.

“Right now, those that see the Constitution as a document that has seen its time, are, thankfully, in the minority,” MainStreet wrote on Republic-MainStreet.”

Several seized on the story’s mention of Obama’s rebuke of the Supreme Court’s decision to allow corporations to spend freely on political campaigns in his January State of the Union speech. 

“…Roberts and Alito, did not appreciate Obama’s cavalieric performance and are even less likely to forget it,” Jason posted on The American MAXIM. “President Obama looks to either feast or famine over his agenda on healthcare, financial regulations, opposing Arizona’s immigration law, etc., and the fact that the Supreme Court is poised to rule in one, if not all, is not escaping the attention of most Americans.”

The second legal issue was between the Obama administration and Arizona over that state’s new immigration law. And in this case, progressives weighed in heavily in support of the administration’s lawsuit.

“I love our president,” wrote Elisa on Mother Talkers. “The Obama Administration has filed a lawsuit challenging Arizona’s anti-illegal immigrant law on the grounds that, ‘The Constitution and the federal immigration laws do not permit the development of a patchwork of state and local immigration policies throughout the country.’”

“To that I say ‘thank god,’” wrote Cara on The Curvature. “and while I’m disappointed (but not surprised) that the basis for the suit has nothing to do with human rights and racial profiling, I wish them all the best of luck, and sincerely and desperately hope that they manage to prevent enforcement from beginning.”


The most viewed news video on YouTube last week involved the issue of reporters’ access to the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. On July 1, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper offered a commentary criticizing the federal government for a new rule limiting access to some cleanup sites.

The anchor tells viewers the new rule restricts “photographers and reporters and anyone else from coming within 65 feet of any response vessel or booms out on the water or on beaches.” Violators, Cooper reports, are subject to a $40,000 fine and face felony charges.

The anchor took issue with the prohibition, which he said was at odds with Admiral Thad Allen’s pledge a month earlier to “uninhibited access anywhere we’re doing operations, except for two things, if it’s a security or a safety problem.”

“Those of us down here trying to accurately show what’s happening, we are not the enemy,” says Cooper. “I have not heard about any journalist who has disrupted relief efforts. No journalist wants to be seen as having slowed down the cleanup or made things worse. If a Coast Guard official asked me to move, I would move.”

Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube
For the Week of July 3-9, 2010

1. Anderson Cooper criticizes a new government rule limiting media access to oil spill cleanup

2. A video of a Dutch police officer kneeing a cyclist in the stomach during an arrest

3. Elena Kagan declines to answer a question about the limits of the Commerce  Clause of the U.S. Constitution

4. A Polish presidential campaign ad depicting late President Lech Kaczyński

5. A first person video from U.S. Airways flight forced to turn back due to maggot infestation

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 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 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.

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