Trending This Week: News Stories on Social Media
August has been anything but slow. Typically expecting a slow news cycle, this last month has proven the world wrong. Beyond the neverending, and very complicated, Middle East crisis, stories including the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, deaths of actors Lauren Bacall and Robin Williams, along with rioting in Missouri have contributed to some interesting regional news. Much of which has spread internationally.
All thanks to the power and breadth of social media.
Here's a look at some of the most intriguing and biggest news stories this week, and how they played out online.
Spurring over 4,000 online mentions in the last four days, there seems to be no defense for the offender using the knee defender. Causing a fight to breakout mid-flight, a dispute between two passengers grounded a United Airlines flight this week. We expected more rage and mentions online, but what we did find was incredibly interesting.
Inventor of the knee defender, Ira Goldman, is a trending topic within the online conversation happening around the argument turned flight debacle with over 200 mentions. Many of these mentions discuss how sales have climbed because of the attention the knee defender is getting. He also says it protects "computers and babies," as a justification for the device.
The blame is being tossed back and forth between the two passengers, the public deeming both as having selfish motivators and reactions. The airline itself had avoided blame, until the inventor and then a few media outlets called out United Airlines and other airlines. They blamed the airlines themselves for shrinking legrooms causing this fight and the heated debate about reclining airline seats.
With the online community split between blaming the man for being a "jerk" and the woman for overreacting (by throwing her water on him) but being "less of a jerk," the knee defender inventor and others are happy to blame the airlines.
There are just over 10 mentions for each blame-worthy party: the airline itself, the front seat female passenger, and the backseat male passenger. With the numbers so few and so close, it's a draw. Perhaps everyone involved is to blame.
The gender split in the online conversation is dominated by the male population, with Twitter mentions divided up 36% female and 64% male. Women seem to be mainly discussing plane tickets and the news of the spectacle itself while men are diving deeper into the conversation discussing the great seat reclining debate, to the purpose of the knee defender, aeroplane etiquette, and everything in between.
I'll have a Whopper, but hold the corporate taxes
The Tim Horton's and Burger King merger is about a lot more than fast food. Headlines included "tax-dodging Whopper" and other puns that called out the potential benefit to BK. As the news covered the formation of the third-largest fast-food chain, reporters and Twitter users focused in on the fact this is a strategic Burger King's corporate tax move. They are set to save a lot of bread on corporate taxes with this merger.
With over 18,000 mentions on Twitter alone since August 25, the merger has spread beyond the business world. US citizens and Canadians alike have expressed twice as much negativity about this new endeavour for BK and Tim's than positive sentiment.
Looking at just negative vs positive Twitter mentions, it's clear that the corporate tax break BK will receive by taking some operations overseas has left a bad taste in the public's mouth.
The hashtags most associated with the BK-Tim's merger discussion on Twitter are peppered with a few surprising, and very odd, hashtags. Including the #emmys and #tdsbreakingnews (The Daily Show's breaking news hashtag). The Daily Show has the hashtag with the most impressions in the merger conversation, while #timhortons and #burgerking take third and ninth ranking when looking at the hashtags volume of impressions.
With nearly one million impressions, #nousecorptax is a top 10 trending hashtag in the merger discussion, showing that the public may care more about the business implications than whether a fast-food chain they hate or love merges with another they may have strong feelings for (one way or another).
Ferguson's social media battleground
The situation in Ferguson can most mildly be described as... tense. The tensions between citizens and the police force, the media and the police force, and basically everyone and the police force, are palpable. Especially on our social media feeds.
But what about Facebook? The social media platform's algorithm seems to be keeping this story out of many people's news feeds. And that's serious cause for alarm.
This Bloomberg article highlights the algorithmic variations that have aligned one social media platform with one campaign over the other. Facebook is for the Ice Bucket Challenge and Twitter is for Ferguson. Is this censorship? Or just the nature of our use of Facebook for personal updates, and Twitter for news sharing and visceral or serious conversations.
Let's look at the social data.
In the third week of August, there had been well over 17.3 million mentions online about the situation in Ferguson.
Surprisingly, while many trending hashtags garner a great deal of spam mentions ("follow me" requests, spam bot proliferation, unrelated mentions, duplicate word meanings, etc) with the #ferguson hashtag and the overall conversation in general we are seeing no spam mentions.
In our topic cloud below, you can see all of the most mentioned topics are related to the situation in Missouri.
In today's online-focused society, social media makes or breaks a protest. There is no middle ground. If it's not trending on Twitter or flooding Facebook, then it most likely isn't gaining traction on the ground.
This is the case with the Occupy Central with Love and Peace (OCLP) movement.
But what's really holding back this particular movement? Is it the lack of social media conversation, or are there other forces at play?
In other nations where speaking out against the government can be quite risky, civilians often still take to social media to discuss. When the Turkish prime minister banned Twitter, Tweets about the ban and from Turkey increased significantly. When Boko Haram kidnapped over 200 schoolchildren, the #bringbackourgirls hashtag and social activism campaign brought global awareness to the situation.
The Middle East crisis is another example of this. Whether that's the civil war in Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or ISIS' rise to power, these situations are being amplified by civilians in those regions through Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. All despite serious threats to their safety from governments or rebel groups if they do so.
Additionally, many of these movements gain support from people in other countries partaking in spreading the word via social. But not with OCLP. It seems that even though the top country for authors discussing the movement online is the US (as it is with most topics), the countries directly involved are prominent in the discussion - Hong Kong and the People's Republic of China.
One of the most interesting aspects about OCLP is its lack of social virality. According to Brandwatch Analytics data, in the last month (July 26-August 26) there have been less than 3,000 mentions online about OCLP.
With rumors circulating about the true motivations of marchers, and potential pay-offs to people to participate, there is an elusive cloud around the OCLP movement, those against it, and the general atmosphere in Hong Kong around this issue.
Basically, it's unsuccessful on both sides of the issue - the pro-Beijing contingent and the Occupy Central protesters themselves. And it most definitely is unsuccessful as a viral social media campaign. The question remains why.
What we do know (according to the data):
Mentions spiked on August 17 with over 670 mentions around the pro-Beijing protest march in Hong Kong against OCLP, in response to planned sit-ins. Beyond that, there hasn't been much online chatter about the Occupy Central movement.
The most popular Twitter authors on the Occupy Central with Love and Peace (OCLP) movement in Hong Kong are news media outlets, after the official @oclphk handle. To give you an idea of the movement's lack of social reach, its official Twitter handle has just over 3,600 followers, a miniscule following compared to @occupywallst with over 201,000 followers.
Top Twitter authors include the South China Morning Post, Al-Jazeera, and Bloomberg.
News media vs the masses
While most activism campaigns in the last two years have thrived on viral posts, endorsement via social media influencers, and large volumes of Tweets and RTs, the online discussion about Occupy Central is almost evenly split between news outlets and social media platforms.
It appears Twitter (in light blue) is dominating the conversation, but compared to other campaigns the discussion on and from news outlets (burgundy) is a much higher percentage.
Negative vs positive sentiment
The majority of mentions online are neutral, reporting on the movement and anti-Occupy protests without leaning toward one side or the other. Taking away those neutral mentions and comparing and contrasting the negative vs the positive mentions, it's evident that there is a negative perception about the movement.
Who's occupying the online conversation?
The profession of the most popular authors around a conversation can say a lot about the story or campaign. It says everything that the top profession of others discussing OCLP are journalists, owning 35% of the conversation. Another interesting look at the demographics show that men are dominating the conversation, making up 67% of authors talking about it.
Topics occupying the online conversation
The anti-Occupy Central conversation has all but commandeered the minimal mentions of the movement. Mentions that are "anti" or "against" the OCLP movement number over 1,700, over half the mentions. Most mentioned topics include "anti-Occupy Central," "Rally Against Occupy Central," "anti-Occupy march," "thousands join anti-Occupy rally" and others in a similar vein.
The crux of their movement, occupying with "Love and Peace," has just over 150 mentions.
With September right around the corner, the tech and social media world is getting ready for one of our busiest seasons. If the summer is any indication, the news cycle this fall will be exploding. We'll be keeping a close eye on how the news plays out on social media.
Follow Dinah Alobeid on Twitter