Media Cloud

Press & Publications

Selected Press and Publications







Breitbart-led right-wing media ecosystem altered broader media agenda

Abstract: The 2016 presidential election the foundations of American politics. Media reports immediately looked for external disruption to explain the unanticipated victory—with theories ranging from Russian hacking to “fake news.” We have a less exotic, but perhaps more disconcerting explanation: Our own study of over 1.25 million stories published online between April 1, 2015 and Election Day shows that a right-wing media network anchored around Breitbart developed as a distinct and insulated media system, using social media as a backbone to transmit a hyper-partisan perspective to the world. This pro-Trump media sphere appears to have not only successfully set the agenda for the conservative media sphere, but also strongly influenced the broader media agenda, in particular coverage of Hillary Clinton.

The Role of the Networked Public Sphere in the U.S. Net Neutrality Policy Debate

Abstract: This article examines the public debate over net neutrality in the United States in 2014. We compiled, mapped, and analyzed more than 15,600 stories published on net neutrality, augmented by data from Twitter, Bitly, and Google Trends. Using a mixed- methods approach that combines link analysis with qualitative content analysis, we describe the evolution of the debate over time and assess the role, reach, and influence of different media sources and advocacy groups. By three different measures, we find that the pro-net neutrality forces decisively won the online public debate and translated this into a successful social mobilization effort. We conclude that a diverse set of actors working in conjunction through the networked public sphere played a pivotal role in turning around the Federal Communications Commission policy on net neutrality. 

The Battle for ‘Trayvon Martin’: Mapping a Media Controversy On- and Offline

Abstract: One of the biggest news stories of 2012, the killing of Trayvon Martin, nearly disappeared from public view, initially receiving only cursory local news coverage. But the story gained attention and controversy over Martin’s death dominated headlines, airwaves, and Twitter for months, thanks to a savvy publicist working on behalf of the victim’s parents and a series of campaigns off–line and online. Using the theories of networked gatekeeping and networked framing, we map out the vast media ecosystem using quantitative data about the content generated around the Trayvon Martin story in both off–line and online media, as well as measures of engagement with the story, to trace the interrelations among mainstream media, nonprofessional and social media, and their audiences. We consider the attention and link economies among the collected media sources in order to understand who was influential when, finding that broadcast media is still important as an amplifier and gatekeeper, but that it is susceptible to media activists working through participatory or nonprofessional media to co–create the news and influence the framing of major controversies. Our findings have implications for social change organizations that seek to harness advocacy campaigns to news stories, and for scholars studying media ecology and the networked public sphere.

Social Mobilization and the Networked Public Sphere: Mapping the SOPA-PIPA Debate

Abstract: This paper uses a new set of online research tools to develop a detailed study of the public debate over proposed legislation in the United States designed to give prosecutors and copyright holders new tools to pursue suspected online copyright violations. For this study, we compiled, mapped, and analyzed a set of 9,757 stories relevant to the COICA-SOPA-PIPA debate from September 2010 through the end of January 2012 using Media Cloud, an open source tool created at the Berkman Center to allow quantitative analysis of a large number of online media sources. This study applies a mixed-methods approach by combining text and link analysis with human coding and informal interviews to map the evolution of the controversy over time and to analyze the mobilization, roles, and interactions of various actors.

This novel, data-driven perspective on the dynamics of the networked public sphere supports an optimistic view of the potential for networked democratic participation, and offers a view of a vibrant, diverse, and decentralized networked public sphere that exhibited broad participation, leveraged topical expertise, and focused public sentiment to shape national public policy. We find that the fourth estate function was fulfilled by a network of small-scale commercial tech media, standing non-media NGOs, and individuals, whose work was then amplified by traditional media. Mobilization was effective, and involved substantial experimentation and rapid development. We observe the rise to public awareness of an agenda originating in the networked public sphere and its framing in the teeth of substantial sums of money spent to shape the mass media narrative in favor of the legislation. Moreover, we witness what we call an attention backbone, in which more trafficked sites amplify less-visible individual voices on specific subjects. Some aspects of the events suggest that they may be particularly susceptible to these kinds of democratic features, and may not be generalizable. Nonetheless, the data suggest that, at least in this case, the networked public sphere enabled a dynamic public discourse that involved both individual and organizational participants and offered substantive discussion of complex issues contributing to affirmative political action.

Blogs as an Alternative Public Sphere: The Role of Blogs, Mainstream Media, and TV in Russia’s Media Ecology

Abstract: Applying a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods, we investigate whether Russian blogs represent an alternative public sphere distinct from web-based Russian government information sources and the mainstream media. Based on data collected over a one-year period (December 2010 through December 2011) from thousands of Russian political blogs and other media sources, we compare the cosine similarity of the text from blogs, mainstream media, major TV channels, and official government websites. We find that, when discussing a selected set of major political and news topics popular during the year, blogs are consistently the least similar to government sources compared to TV and the mainstream media. We also find that the text of mainstream media outlets in Russia (primarily traditional and web-native newspapers) are more similar to government sources than one would expect given the greater editorial and financial independence of those media outlets, at least compared to largely state-controlled national TV stations. We conclude that blogs provide an alternative public sphere: a space for civic discussion and organization that differs significantly from that provided by the mainstream media, TV, and government.