By Todd Murphy | November 10th, 2020
Measuring media messages
Monitoring and measuring messages in social media is much like measuring other media formats, except it is totally different. With print, broadcast, and web news, most of the content is generated by or linked to a media outlet with some level of journalistic integrity. I know, some will complain that this outlet is biased, that outlet is biased, or all outlets are biased, but the studies prove that credible news sources do take steps to achieve accuracy in their reporting. This post is not about media bias.
Looking for media fragments
The presidential election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden has exposed a newer fragmentation of social media. Prior to this election, one could access a common social network to see facts, opinions, and even alternative facts, all in one place. This provided all users with a common experience that could be measured, even though users often interpreted what they saw in different ways. Nonetheless, when everyone is viewing posts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, we all have an equal opportunity to view the same content and react. Now, we have a fragmentation of social content in newer networks like Gab and Parler (pronounced “par-lay”).
Emergence of Gab and Parler
Gab and Parler boast a tenfold increase in users this year as conservatives look for a place where only their views are shared. This is not surprising given our politically divided country. In many ways, this is no different than what happens with neighborhoods, friend groups, social clubs, and even tribal affiliations. People tend to congregate in groups with shared beliefs. That’s why social networks have worked so well: You can pick and choose your groups based on your interests and beliefs.
Echo, echo, echo …
The danger to this latest fragmentation is twofold. First, when you have only a single philosophical belief that is common to all, it is harder for groups to improve or evolve as new facts and realities come to light. These single-minded networks are the purist form of social echo chambers, repeating back to their members exactly what they already think. Without debate and discernment of opposing views, some will argue that growth cannot occur. Secondly, what happens to the mainstream social networks when one faction exits the room? What is left is the opposite of what the exiting group is creating. In other words, if conservatives leave Twitter for Parler, then Twitter becomes more liberal by simple subtraction of the conservative views.
Measuring the social fragments
So, how does this fragmentation impact public relations and media measurement? Well, you can either represent a single philosophy by measuring messages on the original networks, or figure out how to add the newly created networks and combine all data to create a sample that is once again representative of all. However, within an echo chamber will the members become even more zealous and polarized as their beliefs go unchecked by opposing ideas? Will the Right move even further to the Right, allowing the Left to grow even more liberal?
If we look at history, we can find many examples of what happens when a belief or idea is isolated and left unchecked. Echo chambers can grow an opinion into something capable of dangerous outcomes. For PR professionals, measuring emerging ideas and polarizing messages will become more important in 2021. If you don’t have the means to measure all media, Left and Right included, you may want to add this to your plans for the new year. If you need help with how to monitor the fragments within social media, or all of the media, our Media Insights team would be happy to work with you. We never charge for consultations.