Last week, I posted an analysis of the media coverage of the Fight For 15 convention, which I compiled using the Google News aggregator. With the exception of the New York Times article by Steven Greenfield, all of the information and quotes of each article originated from two Associated Press articles,one previewing the event, and the other providing a recap. This was a sign that very few mainstream media outlets actually covered the event directly.
To supplement these findings, I have also analyzed the top tweets of the #FightFor15 hashtag which correspond to the events that took place in Elmhurst, Illinois on the weekend of July 26th and 27th.
First, I compiled a list of which handles were tweeting influential top tweets, according to Twitter’s algorithm. I defined the type of each handle, breaking up the users into five categories:
Movement Group: An organization which was created to work toward the aims of the movement. While they might also advocate for other issues, their focus is on the unionization of low-wage workers, raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, paid sick days, and other workers rights.
Community Organization: An organization which is working toward the aims of the movement but originated for other causes. This includes Occupy groups and other neighborhood activist groups like Fight For Philly.
Unions: An organization of workers which is considered a union according to the traditional definition, including SEIU, CTU, UNITE HERE, and many others.
Journalist: An individual who reports on issues and covers events, whether on mainstream media outlets like MSNBC and CNN or popular online sources like Huffington Post and Salon. (Bloggers would likely be in a separate category)
Individual: Any other individual who is involved in the movement, whether as a social media activist, movement member, or any other role. This is a catch-all category that might be split further with analysis of deeper research sets.
Other: Any other entity, in this case @USDayofRage, which couldn’t be classified in any other category.
The table below summarizes my findings:
Even though these are just the 87 top tweets related to the convention ranging between July 25th and 30th, and an analysis of all tweets from the time period would provide even further depth to the research, there are still many interesting trends to note. When looking at the handle types, it is obvious that most of the top tweets were from movement groups, as they comprise 6 of the top 7 handles, only rivaled by MSNBC journalist Ned Resnikoff, who live-tweeted the event as it unfolded before writing articles to recap. Also, there is a highly unequal distribution of top tweets when sorted by handle, which is even more visible on the graph below:
Indeed, 50.56% of the top tweets from the weekend, originate from @resnikoff, @15andaunion, @show_me15, and @RaiseUpFor15. All of these accounts posted quotes and pictures from the event, which were shared through retweets across Twitter’s network. What does this mean? Twitter is frequently touted as a platform with the capability to contribute to a more open and democratic society, where members of communities with less resources still have the ability to participate on a more level communicative playing field. Do the more popular twitter accounts have a higher likelihood of their tweets becoming considered as top tweets? Obviously, we would need to know the algorithm that Twitter uses to calculate the top tweets in order to come to a distinct conclusion. However, if we use the logic that handles with a high percentage of top tweets for a hashtag are more entrenched in activist networks, then the handles which contribute the most would have the highest number of followers. However, after graphing the number of followers of each handle, sorted by their contribution to the top tweets, it is obvious that this trend is not the case:
More likely, these accounts tweeted a high percentage of content from the convention, as they were actively participating, and a percentage of these tweets resonated with other users who were following the convention, causing them to receive the attention necessary to classify them as top tweets.
I also broke down the results by group type:
Not surprisingly, movement groups like @LowPayIsNotOK, @FastFoodForward, and @FightFor15 comprise a majority of the handles and tweets which were featured as top tweets. Supporting groups, including Community Organizations and Unions, were equally represented in both tweets and accounts, which includes occupy groups like @OccupyWallStNYC and @99NewEngland, and unions like @SEIU1991. Only one Journalist, Ned Reskinoff, who covered the convention extensively for MSNBC and also live-tweeted while attending was featured in top tweets, but over 13% of these tweets were his.
Aside from which handles were creating these top tweets, it is also useful to study what type of content comprises these tweets. I split each tweet into five categories, based on the content they linked to: Pictures, Articles, Videos, Facebook Posts, and Tweets(no link present). Here is a table which tracks the frequency and percentage of each tweet type:
Almost 46% of the content are links to pictures, which were either used to promote the convention, or taken at the event itself. Another 28.74% of the tweets are articles, which either promoted or recapped the convention. These two types of tweets comprise a majority of the content, although quotes and other statements of solidarity were also popular, composing another 16.09%.
What were the sources of these articles which were shared? Were they the articles which were analyzed in my last writing, or were they other sources which were missing from the Google news aggregator?
Interestingly, 48% of the links came from the New York Times article which stood out as not being AP-based in last week’s analysis, and the MSNBC videos and articles which weren’t even shown on Google News. While the Chicago Tribune and Greenville Sun articles which were based on the wire service content did comprise 28%, it shows that these types of articles aren’t as prominently featured, at least in this case.
It was interesting that sources like MSNBC with both articles and videos, and VICE,which had an article which featured many images from the event, were missing from Google News and were only discovered after searching top tweets. Even though MSNBC is a mainstream news organization and VICE features independent journalism, their coverage of the event had a similar, live character which is missing from the AP sourced stories. Furthermore, much of the multimedia in these articles was also tweeted by the journalists meaning that, rather than just available at the article’s Web address, their coverage also traversed through the Twitter networks, with journalists using the #fightfor15 hashtag. This example was from Alice Speri, who covered the event for VICE:
— Alice Speri (@alicesperi) July 26, 2014
Even through a brief examination of the top tweets for the #fightfor15 hashtag, a distinct structure emerges which sheds light on how networked movement events are covered on Twitter. The days leading up to the event featured tweets which promoted the event, with links to articles by the Chicago Tribune, which were sourced by the Associated Press and a widely circulated logo of the event:
— $15 and a Union (@15andaUnion) July 24, 2014
Once the fast food workers arrived at the convention center, the top tweets were dominated by live pictures accompanied by quotes from speakers or comments about the participants:
— Fight for Philly (@fightforphilly) July 26, 2014
Once the event concluded, the top tweets shift to articles recapping the event, including articles from New York Times, MSNBC, and Vice, as well as the Greensboro AP article:
— Show Me $15 (@Show_Me15) July 27, 2014
While the wire articles serve to distribute news about the event to media outlets throughout the country, whose readership might not use Twitter or follow the movement, the top tweets provide coverage to members of the movement’s virtual networks of weak ties, as well as Twitter savvy users following the hashtag, although many of these people are likely also following the movement groups. The wire articles provided good coverage of the event, featuring the voices of the workers who attended and public speakers who made speeches to the crowd. However, if the Associated Press misrepresented the event, or primarily featured quotes from store owners and lobbying groups which opposed the minimum wage increase, it could greatly effect the public opinion of the movement because of the widespread visibility of this content.
The difference between these two mediums is obvious. In the traditional media structure, hundreds of articles are taken from a single wire source such as the Associated Press and Reuters, and replicated through many outlets, whether a national news network or local newspaper. Those who work for these two companies determine the tone and narrative of these articles which are then replicated en masse, greatly influencing the public opinion of events which effects us everyday. Conversely, Twitter features live updates of events, each tweet providing one perspective of the events unfolding. While one picture or quote won’t provide the background information that was featured in the wire pieces, following hashtags and users attending movement events provide a tweet-by-tweet perspective, coming directly from the users at the event and the surrounding community following the coverage through Twitter. Every time one of these 140 character snippets of coverage are retweeted, the content spreads the information across activists networks on Twitter, which might help facilitate and strengthen the feeling of community.
In a future article, I will analyze what these movement groups are tweeting on an everyday basis, which will provide even more insight into how this expanding social movement is using Twitter to mobilize supporters and spread information relevant to the movement in order to facilitate change in the political system. Stay tuned!