INFORMATION GAP

Visualizing the major gap between media election coverage and what people are actually talking about

Obsession
2016
Obsession
2016

Donald Trump has lambasted the media for being out of touch with the US public throughout this election cycle. There’s some truth to that—if you believe Twitter.

An analysis of election-related headlines and tweets from the US reveals there’s a major disconnect between the topics covered by the media and those discussed by people on Twitter, according to Deb Roy, Twitter’s chief media scientist and director of MIT’s Laboratory for Social Machines. Roy presented his findings Oct. 13 at Quartz’s Next Billion conference in San Francisco.

An example of this disconnect is the two-week period leading up to the US vice presidential nominations. Analyzing stories from 30 major news organizations, Roy and his team found that about a third of election-related articles pertained to the vice president. Meanwhile, over the same period, only 3% of election-related tweets mentioned the vice president.

quartz next billion deb roy twitter chief media scientist mit
(Deb Roy)

It’s a similar story with campaign finance and race issues. As the charts below demonstrate, the media paid far more attention to campaign finance than Twitter users. It’s the inverse when it comes to race issues.

quartz next billion deb roy twitter chief media scientist mit
(Deb Roy)

“There’s a kind of cocoon, decoupled ecosystem, where certain things might be interesting to one group, but not the other,” Roy says.

Of course, Twitter’s 66 million monthly active users in the US aren’t necessarily representative of the population, Roy admitted in an on-stage Q&A. Since going public in 2013, the social media company’s biggest obstacle has been making the service more mainstream so it can appeal to a broader audience.

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