Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Obama, Apple and an Oracular Octopus Lead the Social Media

PEJ New Media Index July 12-16, 2010

The social media universe put two of the biggest names in politics and technology under the microscope last week, highlighting their perceived failures. Bloggers seized on the public’s falling confidence in President Obama while Twitter users savored an opportunity to take issue with Apple Inc. over the company’s newest gadget.

For the week of July 12-16, the No. 1 subject on blogs (at 20% of the news links), was a new Washington Post poll showing diminished public confidence in Obama’s ability to make the right decisions, according to the New Media Index from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

The July 13 story about the poll, which measured confidence of both political parties, by Post staff writers Dan Balz and Jon Cohen, reported that the public’s faith in the president hit a new low since his election, with just 43% of voters expressing confidence in him. The news was worse for members of Congress, who inspired even less confidence among Americans.

Conservatives and liberal bloggers alike saw the lower ratings as grim news for President Obama. But some liberals, examining a wider set of numbers from the poll, saw problems for Republicans—the data accompanying the report showed that public confidence in congressional Republicans was even lower than confidence in either congressional Democrats or Obama.

On Twitter, the No. 1 subject last week was widespread scorn for Apple. Although Twitter posts often contain little commentary, some users in this case voiced pointed dissatisfaction with the computer giant’s handling of the reception problem on the iPhone 4—and that was before Apple announced on July 16 that it would provide free phone covers to remedy the problem.

That topic generated 16% of news links on the site.

Apple Inc. and its products are a frequent favorite on Twitter. In 2010 so far, Apple has been among the top five topics a total of 14 times (eight times as No. 1) for among other things, the iPad launch in January, the company’s ongoing spat with software maker Adobe, the unintended leak of an iPhone prototype and CEO Steve Jobs’ communications with customers.   

One topic last week made the list of top stories on both Twitter and blogs. It dealt with Facebook and privacy—another frequently debated topic in social media.

The specific storyline this time was Facebook UK’s approval of an application that allows children between the ages of 13 and 18 to report online abuse in the form of inappropriate sexual content, cyber-bullying and hacking attempts to the UK Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre and the social networking site.

The Facebook “panic button,” as it is referred to by critics and supporters alike, ranked third for the week on blogs, at 13% of the links. It was fifth on Twitter, at 7%.

The second-largest Twitter story, after Apple, (also at 16%) was BP’s containment of the Horizon Deepwater oil rig spill in the Gulf of Mexico. This marked only the second week since the April 20 explosion that triggered the disaster that the spill was among the top-five Twitter stories.

Most Twitter users simply passed along news that the oil spill had been stopped, at least temporarily. But some expressed their elation.

“Wow, kind of surreal at this point to see the oil spill cam sans gushing oil. Hopefully this holds,” tweeted rob_sheridan, shortly after the leak was sealed on July 15.

The No. 3 Twitter subject was a Fox News story (at 8%) suggesting that felons may have voted illegally in the 2008 Minnesota Senate election, ultimately deciding the election for former Saturday Night Live comedian Al Franken.  That was followed, at 7%, by a Wired News story about the phenomenon of  “i-dosing” which involves using a digital sound file that purportedly produces effects similar to illegal drugs.

And on YouTube, several clips about the now famous German octopus that made seven cor

rect predictions for the outcome of 2010 FIFA World Cup games dominated the list of most-viewed videos.

Bad Tidings for Obama

Bloggers across the political spectrum agreed that the Washington Post-ABC poll report  contained bad news for the Obama Administration and Congressional Democrats.

Conservative bloggers cheered Obama’s dismal ratings on job approval and public confidence, predicting a major political realignment in the 2010 midterm elections.

“We see that even those polls with the strongest Democrat sampling bias are showing Obama’s disapproval above his approval—in some instances, above 50 percent—with large numbers of those polled expressing little or no confidence in his leadership on the economy,’” wrote stuiec at Up from the Slime.  “This isn’t just dissatisfaction with a three-month-long oil spill, it’s a fundamental reevaluation of his entire Presidency.”

Some non-partisan political bloggers also concluded the Democratic Party has a tough road ahead.

“Defending the majority they established in the 2006 and 2008 cycles, Democrats are seen as having much more to lose by this year’s deep anti-incumbent mood among the electorate,” Scott Nance wrote at On the Hill Blog.  

Liberal bloggers, however, while acknowledging the negative numbers for Obama, saw some silver linings in the data.

“Listen, there’s no doubt that the GOP will make gains in the fall, don’t buy the line that it’s absolutely hopeless for the Dems,” Justin Gardner at Donklephant wrote. “Voters aren’t dumb and they’re not just going to vote for the opposition just because they’re the opposition…especially if they have no faith in the opposition.”

Or as Steve at summed up the public confidence numbers:

“58 percent of you think the President sucks.

68 percent of you think Democrats suck.

72 percent of you think Republicans suck.


 A chink in iPhone’s titanium armor

Twitter users closely followed and shared rumors about the company’s response to much-publicized antenna problems with iPhone 4. It was the detractors, though, that most often included comments alongside the links.

All of the discussion captured on Twitter for this report occurred before Apple CEO Steve Jobs hosted a July 16 press conference at which he offered a free accessory to all owners of the iPhone 4 that alleviates the reception issue.

“This is what you get for buying Apple products hot off the market,” Twitter user JonVoightsCar sneered. “Someday people will know better…meh, no they won’t.”

One of the most linked to stories on this topic came from CNET. In the report, critic Molly Wood echoed calls for a recall of the smartphone and replacement for all with a new model. But some Twitter users who linked to the article expressed hope that it wouldn’t occur.

“Also interesting. #iphone4 Mine just shipped today, I hope it’s not recalled,” tweeted girlnigel on July 15.

So far at least, they’ve gotten their wish as Apple has never given any public indication that it was considering the option.

Panic on the Network

The one story that resonated strongly on both blogs and Twitter last week was Facebook’s approval of a UK application that allows British minors to click a button and report inappropriate communications. The clicks get sent to a UK government center aimed at preventing child sex abuse. The “panic button” had already been approved and adopted by competing social networking sites MySpace and Bebo.

Much of the blogosphere commentary about the so-called panic button was largely negative, criticizing the center that created the application (the UK Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre – Ceop), Facebook’s approval of it and parents’ reliance on such services.

“While we’re all for tools that help protect teenagers… we’re concerned about the potential abuses of this tool,” wrote Samuel Axon on Mashable. “People will inevitably make errors when using it, and some might even abuse it as a means of harassment or humiliation against peers.”

Blogger Sarah Perez on Read Write Web criticized Ceop’s chief executive Jim Gamble, who lobbied the social network to approve the panic button.

“Gamble had turned the story about social networking panic buttons (and the lack thereof) into a bit of a media circus over the past several months,” Perez wrote. “In November, he attacked both Facebook and MySpace after social networking site Bebo became the first to launch the CEOP button. Instead of focusing just on the benefits of the technology, Gamble was more intent on criticizing the competing sites for refusing to do the same.”

Still others believe parents may rely too much on technological tools to protect their children in the social media space.

Twitter user slger123 shared an analysis by Internet researcher danah boyd that offered both praise for Facebook U.K. and a warning to parents.

“There are actually very good reasons to be wary of the ‘Panic Button,’”  boyd said. “My fear is that the lack of critical conversation about the ‘Panic Button’ will result in people thinking it’s a panacea, rather than acknowledging its limitations and failings. Furthermore, touting it as a solution obscures the actual dangers that youth face.”



Many clips on the video-sharing website celebrated one of the biggest stars to come out of international soccer since Pelé. Commentators have dubbed this pundit “clairvoyant” for correctly predicting the outcome of seven World Cup matches.

Meet Paul, a common octopus who lives at a Sea Life Centre in Oberhausen, Germany. The psychic cephalopod made picks for each of Germany’s six matches in the 2010 FIFA World Cup games—as well as the final between Spain and the Netherlands—by choosing to eat a mussel in one of two boxes marked with the flags of the teams competing in an upcoming match.

But an earlier divination from Paul proved the most controversial. As reported by Russia Today in the second most-viewed video of the week, Paul picked Spain over his home country in the tournament’s semi-finals. “Psychic Squid Betrays Berlin By Sucking Up to Spain in World Cup,” read the accompanying text to the July 6 video report.

Following Germany’s 1-0 loss to Spain the following day, fans turned against the “oracle” octopus. In the fourth most viewed clip of the week, on July 8, Russia Today reported that Paul’s owner  received calls from people wishing to do harm to the animal—many in the form of recipes with the octopus as the intended protein.

In the fifth most viewed video of the week, Russia Today concluded that Paul had redeemed himself in the eyes of German soccer fans by correctly choosing the home team over Uruguay in the July 9 third-place match.

The third most viewed video of the week was the only one among the top five to have humans as its main focus. The clip showed raw video by the Associated Press of celebrations in Madrid immediately following Spain’s overtime victory against the Netherlands. 


 Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube
For the Week of July 12-July 16, 2010
 1. Video of a common octopus named Paul correctly predicting the result of the 2010 FIFA World Cup Final
 2. A Russia Today news report detailing Paul’s correct pick of Spain over Germany in the World Cup semi-finals
 3. Associated Press raw video of celebrations in Madrid following Spain’s victory over Germany in the World Cup Finals
 4. Russia Today reports octopus pundit Paul received death threats after predicting Spain’s win over Germany. 
 5. Russia Today raw video of Paul’s third place match prediction: Germany over Uruguay

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.

1. The first three figures reflect numbers in a graphic presented with the Washington Post poll report that are negligibly different from numbers in the raw data. The last figure is meant to be satirical.


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