Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Instagram, Facebook and Media Controversies Lead on Social Media

PEJ New Media Index April 9-13, 2012

News that the online giant Facebook purchased Instagram for $1 billion drew two diff

erent reactions in social media last week: shock at the price tag and skepticism about how Facebook would impact the popular photo-sharing app.

For the week of April 9-13, the internet business acquisition was the most discussed topic on blogs and the third most discussed on Twitter, according to the New Media Index from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Instagram, a photo-sharing network that has more than 30 million users, is perhaps best known for the quick filter options users can apply to improve the look of their own photos. Despite the fact that the company, which started in 2010, has grown rapidly in the past two years, most people thought the price was far too high for a service that has no current revenue. Many others feared that Facebook would somehow change Instagram in a negative fashion by making it less user friendly or commercializing it.

In addition to the Facebook purchase, the Trayvon Martin case, which left the 17-year-old dead after being shot by George Zimmerman, remained a large component of the social media conversation. Last week, fully six weeks after the incident occurred, the story was the second biggest subject on blogs and the fourth largest on Twitter.

This past week, the discussion moved beyond the specifics of the case to focus on three media controversies

surrounding the coverage, often inside a political frame.

The first involved the firing of an unnamed NBC producer who edited the audio clips of Zimmerman’s 9-1-1 calls to make the incident appear racially motivated. The second was a report, later disputed, that a group of neo-Nazis had traveled to the area where the incident occurred. And third was the firing of writer John Derbyshire by the National Review after he wrote a controversial column consisting of racially-charged advice, inspired in part by the discussion surrounding the Martin case.

In all three cases, commentators accused the news organizations involved of having hidden biases and political agendas of their own.

Facebook Buys Instagram

For most that commented on the Facebook purchase, the headline was the large sticker-price-especially given that fact that the young photo-sharing service has yet to generate revenue.

“Facebook paid $1 billion for a free app that isn’t ad-supported and has no (apparent) business model in place. Wow,” tweeted Erik Malinowski.

“I can’t believe $0 = $1 billion. I really hope this isn’t real, because this is a gross miscalculation of reality,” responded Brian Wong.

“I remember when pictures used to be worth a thousand words. Talk about inflation,” wrote a commenter Shehryar Siddiqi on TechCrunch.

A few analysts saw the purchase differently.

“For Facebook, buying Instagram looks like one of the smartest acquisitions the company has ever made,” wrote Christina Warren at Mashable. “Why try to build a competing photo app when you can just buy the best and most viral?”

“This acquisition is an improvement to Facebook’s already-dominant photos product, and it’s a way to tie more Facebook activity to a mobile experience that, unlike Facebook’s own apps, does not suck at all,” agreed Jon Mitchell at ReadWriteWeb.

Another large cohort, though, feared that Facebook would have a negative impact on the service they had come to enjoy. The website The Next Web conducted an online poll showing that 40% of respondents would stop using Instagram because Facebook now owns it, compared to only 21% who would continue.

“Facebook is going to ruin instagram too…” worried Jake McGuire.

“I swear to god if Facebook do one thing to instagram I’m having an intervention. #dontwantfacebooknomore,” warned Emily Ashton. *

“I could be proven terribly wrong but it seems to me this is the high point for Instagram before it begins what almost certainly will be its slow decline,” predicted Greg Sterling at Screenwork.

The ultimate impact of the deal on both Facebook and Instagram, as well as on their users, remains to be seen.

Trayvon Martin Case Continued

On April 6, NBC announced it was firing an unnamed producer for editing the audio tapes of George Zimmerman in a misleading way. Despite the move, criticism of NBC continued among bloggers, and came primarily from conservatives claiming that NBC was trying to push a racial agenda.


“This dishonest behavior has characterized NBC for many years,” added Stranger at Extrano’s Alley. “It is of course time to stop it. But I am reasonably sure it will take more than a little negative publicity to straighten things out at NBC. And MSNBC, CNBC, and the rest of that group.”

Some went even further, claiming NBC was participating in a cover-up.

“I want to know if the person who was fired actually exists, or is it just a figment of a lawyerly imagination, which leaves NBC and other mass lying media to promulgate falsehoods and gin up race wars (for fun and profit? for the LULZ? or deeper agenda?) free to continue as they were, with no consequences or punishments,” demanded The World According to American Goy.

Others bloggers focused on reports that a group of neo-Nazis had traveled to Sanford, Florida, in order to ensure the safety of white citizens in the area. Initially, bloggers passed along the report adding their own thoughts on the group.

“You know all that rhetoric about ‘race war’ that’s showing up at and many other right wing sites these days?” asked Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs. “It’s not just rhetoric. There are some people in Sanford, Florida right now who are taking it very seriously indeed.”

“It’s nice to see the white power movement cater to the racial divisions brought up by the Trayvon Martin murder, surfacing as ‘good citizens’ like this,” added a sarcastic Pam Spaulding at Pam’s House Blend.

Some bloggers focused their attention on a local Orlando Fox television affiliate that ran a news report referring to the rumored patrol as a “Civil Rights Group” without challenging their radical views.


“A Foxnews affiliate in Orlando referred to the Nazis as a ‘Civil Rights’ group,” shared Clay Jones at the blog. “Yes, you read correctly. The all-white-supremacist-neo nazis who were inspired by the guy who had 6 million Jews murdered has been recognized by Fox as a civil rights group.”

The discussion changed, though, when the original story was called into question. A Miami New Times blog, widely cited as the original source for the story, later acknowledged it did not have independent proof that a neo-Nazi group was in Sanford, only that a leader of the group was claiming they were there.

Bloggers responded with strong media criticism.

“In what has become a prime example of media malpractice, none of the major publications spreading the rumors bothered to check with local law enforcement,” wrote William A. Jacobson at Legal Insurrection. “I did, and the Sanford Police deny any indication of neo-Nazi patrols.”

At the same time, a third controversy was brewing at the conservative publication, the National Review. Staffer John Derbyshire was fired after writing a column where he advised parents of non-black kids to convey certain warnings to their children. Among them, he suggested to “Stay out of heavily black neighborhoods” and “Do not settle in a district or municipality run by black politicians.”

A number of liberal bloggers called out Derbyshire for racist comments and conservative media for fostering such viewpoints.

[Derbyshire and his supporters]

“For far too long periodicals and conservative organizations have provided legitimate cover for the likes of neo-Nazis and white supremacist like John Derbyshire,” asserted BTX3’s blog.  “Conservatives would be claiming to be holding their noses – but it’s hard to see, after such a long association that they were holding their noses tight enough to affect their breathing the foul miasma drifting from these scumbags.”

At the same time, a number of conservatives also criticized the National Review and its editor Rick Lowry, but for a very different reason-for not defending Derbyshire enough.

“It’s official, the neocon rag National Review has fired John Derbyshire for writing an entirely reasonable and realistic article,” complained Satre at NeoCon Watch. “Looking at mundane crime statistics, Derbyshire wrote a piece advising white parents to tell their kids not to visit black neighborhoods, etc. The leftist and neocon media went ballistic.”

“John Derbyshire is an honourable man who will not apologise for the crime of pointing out the truth and God knows we need more like him,” posted BrokenSymmetry at Meanderings. “But there is also the issue of cowardice in caving in to the demands of ones ideological opponents for the head of one of your best writers. I would have stuck by JD if only for this reason. I really, really wish that I had a subscription to the NR if only for the pleasure of canceling it.”

The Rest of the Week’s News on Blogs

Elsewhere in the blogosphere, the No. 3 topic was a column by actress and activist Ashley Judd where she disparaged the media for reporting that her face looked “puffy” and implying that she had surgery. Judd argued that this focus on how women look is a misogynistic assault on women.

The presidential campaign was the fourth subject with most of the attention directed at the news that Rick Santorum suspended his campaign on April 10.

And the passing of reporter Mike Wallace at the age of 93, best known for his work on the CBS show “60 Minutes,” was the fifth biggest topic.

The Rest of the Week’s News on Twitter

On Twitter, the other top subjects included tweets from singers and a meme based on the body-image for women.

A number of tweets from pop star Miley Cyrus, including one about Easter and another featuring a picture of her with her mother, were the most linked-to subject last week.

Tweets from the popular boy band One Direction were the No. 2 subject.

And a hashtag, #ThingsIHateOnFemales, was the fifth biggest subject. Many users retweeted a picture that decried the fact that women today are only considered attractive if they are especially skinny, as opposed to earlier film stars who were not as thin.


On YouTube, a variety of videos ranging from science to sports to economics, received the most views.

The No. 1 clip consisted of a supposed UFO sighting caught from an airplane over Seoul, South Korea. Filmed by a passenger on April 7, the footage showed a white round-shaped object flying past the window.

This is not the first time a video of a UFO sighting has been popular on YouTube. During the week of June 27 – July 1, 2011, a sighting from London, England was among the most popular news-related videos that week.

The No. 2 video featured a tense moment on a sports talk show. On the April 10 edition of ESPN’s program First Take, former professional basketball player Jalen Rose called out his co-host, commentator Skip Bayless, for lying about his high school basketball career at Northwest Classen High.

According to an investigation by the website TheLostOgle, Bayless had previously misrepresented his playing career on Twitter.

Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube

For the Week of April 07 – 13, 2012

1. Video of an alleged UFO spacecraft seen from an airplane over Seoul, South Korea
2. Footage from the ESPN program First Take showing Jalen Rose arguing with his co-host Skip Bayless about his high school basketball exploits
3. A science advocacy video posted by user TheOtherSideOfLight comparing the amount of money spent by the United States on defense and wars compared to a smaller amount spent on space exploration
4. Footage from a surveillance camera showing a 7th-grader managing to stop a school bus after the driver had a heart attack on April 9 in Washington state
5. A humorous Spanish-language animation promoting the new book “Simiocracia, Crónica de la Gran Resaca Económica” which describes the Spanish economic crisis of 2008-2012

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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