Navigating the twitter bubble
I spent my four-hour challenge reporting on an online discussion on art. It spread through different social media after George Clooney argued twice last week that the Parthenon Marbles should be returned to Greece. The actor – who is currently promoting his movie “The Monument Men” in Europe – called for “an open discussion” about the ownership of the ancient friezes. The discussion on Twitter was heated, but fragmented and surprisingly…”local”.
Understanding the background story (1,5 Hour)
I first had to get the facts straight. I read, compared and contrasted different mainstream and independent media. The dispute between Greece and the United Kingdom over the artifacts lasts for almost two decades. It has constantly been on Greek mainstream media, but it never attracted much international publicity. Greece keeps calling for the return of its “looted” art and the British authorities claim that the 2000-year-old marbles were acquired legally in 1816 by the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire Lord Elgin. In fact, the British Museum’s official position states that ms the place of Ancient Greece among the great cultures of the world.”
Clooney, who directed and stars in the movie, provoked a lively discussion on social media a few days earlier. At Berlin Film Festival the actor replied to a Greek journalist’s question whether Greece should reclaim its monuments from the UK. He said: “I think that is a good idea. I think that would be a very fair and very nice thing. Yeah, I think it is the right thing to do.” His co-stars Matt Damon and Bill Murray also backed his argument. The film is an adaptation of a nonfiction book by Robert Edsel. It is the story of a group of architects and artists, who are sent to Europe in order to protect art and historic monuments from being destroyed by the Nazis.
Gathering the reactions (2 Hours)
The first question I wanted to answer was how such a story spread on social media. Was it a local or global?
I tracked it manually via advance search on Twitter feed. I went back to the first tweets on February 8 and observed the reactions of people and media organizations. The first comments a few minutes after the press conference in Berlin (#Clooney just said Britain should give the Elgin Marbles back to #Greece) were followed by short media stories tweeted by the media companies from both sides of the Atlantic (#Berlin Film Festival: Monument Man George Clooney Tells U.K. to return Elgin Marbles to Greece Hollywood Reporter). It is not surprising that this was a story was mostly of Greek and British interest. The Embassy of Greece in the US @GreeceInUSA joined the discussion on February 9, followed by Greek and British media (The Guardian, The Times of London, Ekathimerini etc) that promoted their stories on the topic. On February 10, Twitter users who were following the the story began taking sides. They commented on Clooney’s mistake (who said Patheon instead of Parthenon). The next trend was the reply of the mayor of London, Mr. Boris Johnson on Clooney’s comments. Both sides were retweeted part of his remarks and local articles. Most retweets we about Mr. Boris’ comment that Clooney “lost his marbles” over the Elgin affair.
I also used Hashtags.org and realized that most comments are time European zone sensitive. The times the same hashtags appeared was dropping during the early morning hours.
My second question was whether the tweets were conveyed any kind of outrage. I used Sentiment Viz to track reactions and sentiments by specific #hashtags. I observed that the discussion of the topic was separate from the movie. Also, the main words associated by Sentiment Viz with negative feelings (anger, stress, depression etc) were “wrong”, “returned”, and “rejects”, “matt damon”, “murray.”
Observations (30 minutes)
*There were certain limitations while reporting on an online trend under a tight deadline.
*There are not many free twitter visualization tools that can track hashtags. Even though there are websites that track twitter trends the overall picture remains fragmented.
*The discussion of George Clooney’s comments on the topic were discussed locally and had a smaller impact than the discussions on mainstream media. I was surprised that the Guardian featured a poll about the return of the marbles, but there was no fruitful discussion between twitter users.
*The twitter reactions were merely reproductions of media features, articles and commentaries. Almost no original content.
Are we consuming media through intermediaries? This exercise was a realization of my fragmented – yet concentrated – media consumption. I constantly live under tight deadlines, I switch browsers and leave traces on devices – such as library laptops – that are not my own. The Triple Revolution, as described by Lee Rainie & Barry Wellman, has shaped the way I get informed. I get 90% of media online, I follow the trends through social networks and “weak ties”, and interact mostly via my mobile phone.
Realizing that my everyday media consumption cannot be measured by one tool (Rescue Time) and due to privacy concerns, I decided to keep a “totally manual media diary”. First, I retrieved my browsing history from my laptop. Then, I added the one from my mobile phone and kept notes about the use of my favorite applications. Finally, I tried to estimate the percentage of my offline media consumption during the week – excluding phone calls – and dividing it in three categories: schoolwork, entertainment and unwinding. The only limitation of this methodology was the measurement of the exact time I spent at each activity. However, I estimated that I spent 32 hours consuming media online and 21 hours offline.
* My digital media universe is diverse, yet unevenly distributed. At home, I consume most of my daily stories, news and entertainment through 3 websites: Facebook, Gmail (personal and professional) and Youtube. My first “entry” to mainstream media (The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Boston Globe etc) is through what Henry Jenkins called Spreadable Media or “user-generated content.” The power of “weak ties” (school email list, newsletters, Facebook updates etc) has proven to give access to a great variety of information.
* I tend to use my Android mobile phone in a similar way: through specific applications during specific times (such as the morning commute). In fact, I mostly engage with news stories on my phone between 7 and 10 am. Of course, multitasking reduces my attention to information and the time I spend reading on the device.
*Video is bad on mobile devices. I do not have cable, nor a television at home so video platforms work great for information, trends and entertainment on my laptop. However, they are my least favorite application on my phone.
*Audio applications are the winners of the mobile battle, but they vary according the the operating system (IOS, Android).
* I usually read on a screen. I read news quickly. But do I read what is important? Most of the links I click on, come from “references”: either friends and acquaintances via my Facebook newsfeed or through my schools email list.
* I am still a Sunday morning paper enthusiast. I do not have a print subscription, but I enjoy my digital one. I always print the articles I am really interested in.
* Can we measure overall media consumption / satisfaction / loyalty / enjoyment?
* Will mainstream media be able to reach their readers directly? If not, who should determine which stories are promoted on social networking sites?