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The Presidential Campaign Heats Up Online

PEJ New Media Index October 24-28, 2011

While the news agendas often differ on blogs and Twitter, last week was an exception with the same three topics dominating discussions on both.

One was the 2012 presidential election, which was the No. 2 story on blogs and No. 4 on Twitter for the week of October 24-28, according to the New Media Index from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. And while the presidential campaign has registered among the top five stories in the mainstream press in each of the last 12 weeks, this marks only the third time it has shown up among the leading topics in the New Media Index in that period.

But even as the campaign surfaced as a leading story on both blogs and Twitter, the two social media platforms focused on different aspects. Many bloggers voiced their displeasure with the GOP candidates, most particularly Rick Perry. On Twitter, the emphasis was on an unusual campaign ad and an article discussing using social media in the campaign.

Two other stories also sparked debate on both blogs and Twitter. The Occupy Wall Street protests registered as No. 3 on blogs and No. 1 on Twitter. And the aftermath of the October 5 death of Apple founder Steve Jobs was No. 4 on blogs and No. 3 on Twitter.

Since his death, Jobs has been one of the top stories on blogs or Twitter every week except one.

2012 Presidential Election

Liberal bloggers trained their sights last week on Rick Perry, arguing that he was kowtowing to conspiracy theorists and resurrecting the birther issue when he said he doesn’t “have a definitive answer” on whether President Obama was born in the United States.

Republican analyst and power broker Karl Rove also was critical of Perry’s comments, saying on Fox News, “You associate yourself with a nutty view like that, and you damage yourself.”  That also generated in a response online.

“Well said, Turdblossom,” wrote The Pajama Pundit, referring to Karl Rove’s nickname.

“Rick Perry is so desperate to prop up his flagging presidential bid he’s listening to the birther king,” wrote Taylor Marsh.

“Over the weekend, we got another reminder that Rick Perry’s nomination strategy is to pander to the crazy: thus his new birther comments,” wrote Jonathan Bernstein on a Washington Post blog. “They fit right in with a campaign that embraced or at least flirted with many of the more goofy Tea Party ideas, such as repealing the direct election of United States Senators.”

In his remarks on Fox News, Rove also noted that Herman Cain may not be “up to the task” of president, asserting that he demonstrated a lack of understanding about key issues.

On Twitter, Cain was also a popular subject of discussion, thanks to his release of an October 19 campaign ad in which his chief of staff, Mark Block, talks about the campaign and takes a drag on a cigarette before the image changes to one of Cain staring at the camera and slowly breaking into a smile.

Many people on Twitter thought the ad was a hoax. The New York Times even published a piece explaining that it was not.

“Hey Herman Cain, I can even slow emoticon………….. : ……………….. )” tweeted TV personality Stephen Colbert.

“Overheard at Cain headquarters this morning: ‘Where did you put that joke video?’ ‘JOKE video?!?’” tweeted Saturday Night Live star Seth Meyers.

“Herman Cain has the most insane campaign ad you’ll ever see,” wrote the online humor site Funny or Die.

“You know it’s a weird campaign season when reporters must verify that an ad by a leading candidate is not intended as a joke,” wrote Taylor West.

Twitter users also shared an article from Mashable that explained why Obama needs social media to win the 2012 election in order to continue gaining support from younger voters.

“Social media. Its kind of a big deal.”* tweeted Jesse Boudiette.

Occupy Wall Street Protests

The Occupy protests, which started on Wall Street, inspired very different conversations on blogs and Twitter. On blogs, the discussion was ideological, mostly dominated by conservatives criticizing the protests. On Twitter, however, users either shared news articles and videos of the Occupy Oakland demonstration or voiced support for the protestors.

Bloggers seized on two storylines dealing with the protests. One was an article from Andrew Breitbart, a conservative activist, who wrote about an ABC reporter being threatened at the Occupy Oakland protests in California. Conservative bloggers largely reposted the article with little to no commentary.

The other story was a Fox News piece headlined ACORN Playing Behind Scenes Role in ‘Occupy’ Movement.  The story-noting that former members of the now defunct community organizing group ACORN were raising funds and working on behalf of the protestors-triggered criticism from a number of bloggers.

The article also said that “about 100 former ACORN-affiliated staff members from other cities” were paid to attend and support Occupy Wall Street.

“Occupy Wall Street is paying people to protest?  Not only is that brazenly pathetic, but it seems a little capitalistic if you ask me,” wrote Brian Koenig, “Of course, that would be giving capitalism a bad name.  At least corporations stimulate the economy.  OWS just blocks traffic and gives the city air an unfavorable scent.”

“I told you two years ago that we haven’t heard the last of ACORN, that they were flying under the radar and still need to be watched,” wrote Chris Collins at The Navigator.

“It should come as no surprise that ACORN is knee deep in Occupy Wall Street,” wrote Justin Credible at Habled

ash, “They both desire the same outcome: Democrats in control of the government and taxpayer dollars to subsidize them.  The article is rather lengthy, but it connects the obvious dots.”

And at least one blogger defended ACORN.

“Even if the association with ACORN were true, what would be the harm?” asked Mark at News Corpse, “We know now that ACORN was fully exonerated, while their critics were repudiated. There is certainly no shame in being associated with an organization that fought for decades on behalf of the disenfranchised members of our society.”

On Twitter, the tone was markedly pro-protestor, with Twitter users sharing images and videos of police using tear gas during protests in Oakland.

While most tweeters were simply sharing the images, a few opined on the event.

“Shocking,” tweeted Cynthia Yildirim.

Steve Jobs’ Death

The death of former Apple CEO Steve Jobs continued to make news online, three weeks after his passing.

Both bloggers and Twitter users shared news about Jobs’ quirky habits that were revealed in the biography written by Walter Isaacson.

On piece that was often shared on blogs was an Entertainment Weekly article about Jobs’ food “weirdnessess.” On Twitter, an article about Steve Jobs never driving a car with a license plate was often shared.

“Seriously, only Steve Jobs would get to drive without a license plate,” tweeted Garrett Moon.

Isaacson also appeared in a several-part interview on 60 Minutes, which was widely shared and lauded on blogs.

“A great 60 Minutes report on the life of Apple founder Steve Jobs,” commented Plasterazzi.

Very intriguing,” wrote Jot It Down.

Other bloggers discussed whether Aaron Sorkin would write the screenplay for a biopic of Steve Jobs.

“You had to see this one coming a mile away after hearing that Sony Pictures obtained the rights to a film version of Steve Jobs’s biography,” wrote Chris Rawson at TUAW.

“Sorkin is a good bet, but let’s not pretend he’s a risky option,” wrote Michael R. Gideon at 100gf.

The Rest of the News on Blogs

The two other top stories on blogs last week involved mobile phone companies. The No. 1 story was about Nokia cell phones. Tech bloggers were looking forward to the release of the new Lumia 800 and 710 Windows phone on October 26, but were also excited to get leaked information about two other phones, the Nokia 900 and a phone expected next year with the code name Apollo.

Nokia was the top cell phone company in the late 1990s, but has recently been squeezed on both ends of the market: by low end phones made by Asian manufactures and by smartphones on the other side. While it is still the biggest mobile phone company on the market, its global market share dropped below 30% for the first time in a decade this year.  Bloggers thought that the release of a competitive Nokia smartphone could change the cell phone landscape.

“TheNokiaBlog has made my day by showing the upcoming Nokia 900 Windows Phone and the spec sheet is enough to make me drool,” wrote Farhan on SenseApplied.

The new iPhone 4S was still a hot topic online, a few weeks after its release, and was the No. 5 story on blogs for the week.

The Rest of the News on Twitter

A series of diverse subjects filled up the rest of the top stories on Twitter for the week. The second-most popular topic was teen singing sensation Justin Bieber, who released a Christmas single last week. It marks the third time for Bieber in the past five weeks.

Tied for fifth place were three stories. One, a BBC interactive related to the seven billionth human born gave users the opportunity to find out their birth rank in the world’s population and other details about their lives by sharing demographic data. Twitter users generally thought the tool was “cool.”

“Pretty sweet interactive infographic from the BBC,” wrote Robert Perdue.

Also in fifth place was a Time article on the heart health issues associated with the popular McRib sandwich at McDonald’s that was recently rereleased for a limited time.

“‘The McRib’: for people who have no interest in meeting their grandkids,” joked the actor Zach Braff.

The other link tied at No. 5 was a photo of the rapper Drake on a balcony overlooking Las Vegas.


The No. 1 YouTube video last week is of a group of Polynesian teenagers at a football game in Roosevelt, Utah, performing a traditional Haka dance who were then pepper sprayed by police officers.

But images from the final fall of the Gaddafi regime in Libya dominated YouTube.

Two of the top news videos showed Gaddafi’s son Mutassim after his arrest and before his death in Sirte, Libya. The No. 2 and No. 4 videos captured Mutassim in blood-stained clothes, drinking water and smoking a cigarette.

The No. 3 and No. 5 videos, from Global Post and uploaded by different sources, showed October 20 capture of Col. Muammar Gaddafi, who was hidden in a sewage drain after he tried to escape from his hometown of Sirte. Footage of the wounded dictator when he was still alive was visible on the shaky and graphic video.

Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube

For the Week of October 22 – 28, 2011

1. A video of police officers pepper spraying a group of Polynesian fans performing the Haka after a high school football game in Roosevelt, Utah
2. An Arabic-language video showing Muammar Gaddafi’s son, Muttassim Gaddafi, drinking water after his capture in Sirte, Libya
3. Graphic footage from Global Post showing the capture of former Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi
4. Muttassim Gaddafi smoking a cigarette after his capture
5. A shorter version of the same graphic video showing the capture of former Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi

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 recently 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.

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