New working paper: Mainstream Media Power and Lost Orphans: The formation of Twitter networks in times of conflict

A working paper on mainstream media power by Walid Al-Saqaf and Christian Christensen is now online!

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Executive Summary

This paper is an attempt to add to our understanding of social media use during times of political and social crisis by presenting an analysis of the use of Twitter during a specific event: the terrorist attack in Garissa, Kenya in 2015. In particular: how networks were generated on the social media platform in the aftermath of this event; what these networks may be able to tell us about how information flows following democratic conflict events; and, what the type of actors located at the centre of these flows tell us about the nature of Twitter communication.

  • The results of the study show, at least in terms of the use of Twitter during the Garissa case study, that mainstream news organisations maintain a significant portion of their historical currency when it comes to both providing information and having information forwarded from their accounts. In particular, the BBC, CNN and Reuters emerged as key actors and network nodes.
  • Other actors emerged as important, particularly local bloggers and activists. These results point to the role of local social media ‘celebrities’ and activists in media ecologies.
  • Evidence of the broader challenge of self-published user-generated content (either in the form of single tweets and/or more formal publication) to ‘established’ journalism did not materialise in the data analysed in this study, with our defined ‘Broadcasters’ and ‘Networkers’ still dominated by established journalistic organisations. At least in terms of spread and sharing, this form of journalism was paramount. Thus, Twitter proved to be an important vehicle for mainstream journalism to both spread information and promote their brands during this particular event.
  • The results of the study, and the identification of the key network nodes also points to an issue raised in both popular and scholarly literature: the rather narrow levels of use of the platform, and the elite-centric nature of Twitter users. Unlike Facebook, which has much broader user base but tends to be used for fewer, or in-depth postings and comments, Twitter is a platform that lends itself well to ‘live’, on-the-spot updates (including videos and image) but has a much smaller number of users, many of whom are journalists, politicians, celebrities, activists.