Trending tweets driven by mainstream media

Twitter might be seen as a source of breaking news and Chinese-whisper rumours, but a new study suggests that it’s mainstream news outlets that dictate which tweets rise to the top of the trending pile.

The study, published by Hewlett Packard, suggests that “user activity and the number of followers do not contribute strongly to trend creation and its propagation”. In other words, even the likes of Stephen Fry (2,230,947 followers) cannot disrupt the power and influence of traditional media outfits, such as the BBC and the New York Times.

Bernado Huberman, who headed the study of 16.32 million tweets over 40 days, suggested that “mainstream media play a role in most trending topics and actually act as feeders of these trends.

“Twitter users then seem to be acting more as filters and amplifiers of traditional media in most cases.”

Almost a third (31 per cent) of the tweets studied were nothing more than retweets – the reposting of a tweet to another users’ network of followers. And 22 Twitter accounts were identified as the source of the most retweets, with 72 per cent of those being run by mainstream media outlets such as the BBC.

A clutch of individuals such as Barack Obama and Lady Gaga may appear more popular based on the number of followers, but their influence is insignificant compared to the mainstream media’s.

Although innovations in online social networking have given individuals a platform to share their own news and views, it remains the big players that command most of what we consume online.

HP has released the study online; read it here.





“Before we all sink into a slough of digital dystopian despair, it might be worth considering this: is this a sign of the strength, not weakness, of revelatory journalism in the digital age?”

Charlie Beckett, director of POLIS at the London School of Economics, reacts to news that the UK government forced the Guardian into destroying hard drives that contained information leaked by Edward Snowden.

(Source: POLIS)


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