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Election Tone on Facebook, Twitter and Blogs "Relentlessly Negative"

Twitter Tone "Most Negative"

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The tone on Facebook, Twitter and blog conversations about the 2012 presidential election has been a bummer, have you noticed? It turns out researchers have.

Election conversations in social media have been "relentlessly negative" this fall, even more so than in traditional media, a new study that reviewed a vast array of political coverage found.

A study released on Thursday by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism found that most media coverage of the 2012 presidential campaign was more negative than positive in the eight weeks after the nominees emerged from their respective party conventions in August. The report was titled, "Winning the Media Campaign 2012."

The study found only 19 percent of mainstream media stories about President Obama's campaign were favorable, while 30 percent were unfavorable, and 51 percent showed mixed attitudes toward Obama from August 27 through October 21. Mitt Romney's negative number was even higher--38 percent, and his positive number was lower at only 15 percent.

Facebook Tone, Twitter Tone, Blogosphere Tone Analyzed

No aggregate numbers were released for all of social media, but each of the three major social platforms studied showed higher negative numbers for both presidential candidates, the social media campaign analysis showed.

The percentage of negative items about Obama was 45 percent on Twitter, 53 percent on Facebook and 44 percent in blogs. For Romney, the negative chatter came in at 58 percent on Twitter, 62 percent on Facebook and 46 percent in blogs.

Researchers did a detailed analysis of some 2,457 stories in 49 mainstream news sources, along with millions of tweets, Facebook updates and blog posts before concluding that the tone of conversation in social media "differs markedly" and was more consistently negative--with fewer ups and downs tied to campaign events-- in comparison to traditional news outlets.

Twitter, they noted, was by far the most negative. "Every week on Twitter resembled the worst week for each candidate in the mainstream press," the researchers wrote.

Also interesting was the fact that Twitter users discussed Obama with a "somewhat" more favorable tone than Romney, while the tone of Facebook conversations and blog posts was more equal for the two.

"Overall, negative statements about Obama outweighed positive on Twitter by less than 2-to-1," a Pew summary of the study stated. "For Romney it was close to 4-to-1."

Tone on Facebook Improved Only Slightly

Researchers found the chatter on Facebook improved slightly over the last two months of the campaign, especially for Obama, but never enough that the overall tone could be considered positive.

They wrote that on Facebook, ". . .the narrative for both men gradually improved over the course of the eight weeks studied-even as neither man enjoyed a single week of more positive than negative coverage. But that improvement was considerably more dramatic for Obama than Romney."

Noting that the tone of social media conversation did not seem to fluctuate a great deal with campaign events, researchers speculated that it was because social networks act as a " barometer of the mood of people" more than a reaction to campaign activities.

As for social media methodology, the Pew researchers examined the full volume of available public tweets on Twitter, and a large sample of public posts on Facebook. They also sampled several million blogs.

Obama Drew More Attention Than Romney

It's only fair to note that Obama, probably due to his status as president, drew far more attention in social media overall than Romney did during the period studied.

And a separate study by Pew of one month's worth of presidential election coverage quantified the difference, finding Obama was the subject of 11.2 million tweets at a time when Romney was mentioned in 7.7 million tweets.

Also worth noting is that researchers determined the 2012 coverage of President Obama's campaign was significantly more negative than it was in 2008.

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