PEJ New Media Index: Interrogation Memos and Miss California Drive the Online Debate

  • May 01, 2009

Two topics-interrogation techniques and same-sex marriage led the conversation in blogs and social media last week. And while the catalysts that triggered those debates were fresh developments, it was clear that both subjects are familiar ones in the blogosphere.

First, the Obama administration's April 16 release of memos detailing harsh interrogation techniques of terror suspects drove the dominant online conversation last week. More than a third (36%) of the links by blogs and social media sites from April 20-24 focused on the controversy, according to the New Media Index from the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. This marked the second time in less than a month that the question of torture was among the largest topics in the index.

The No. 2 story (another 16% of the links) centered on a subject that surfaced because of an answer by a Miss USA pageant contestant. In response to a judge's question during the April 19 contest, Miss California stated her opposition to same-sex marriage. That turned out to trigger a heated response in the blogosphere that was not entirely new. Two weeks earlier, the issue of gay marriage was the top subject among social media.

While both top stories stirred passions, the pattern of responses in social media was very different between the issues. The interrogation memos generated a polarizing debate over the nation's war on terror that included a broad crosscurrent of viewpoints. The conversation about same-sex marriage, which focused almost exclusively on Miss California, produced mostly a large swath of support among the bloggers.

Read the full report Interrogation Memos and Miss California Drive the Online Debate on the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.