Over the past two months, one issue has emerged as the leading catalyst for online conversation. While debates over harsh interrogation methods and the economic crisis have repeatedly attracted interest in the social media, the subject of gay marriage has bubbled up again and again, in a debate often missing from the mainstream media.
Last week (May 25-29) it was a California Supreme Court ruling upholding a gay marriage ban that re-ignited the social media debate, according to the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. With 35% of all the linked to news stories, as studied by the Project's New Media Index, the ruling dominated online conversation. That marked the fourth time in the last two months that the topic has either been the No. 1 or No. 2 story.
Earlier attention was also triggered by state government actions. First, in early April the Vermont legislature and Washington D.C. City Council approved gay marriage initiatives, followed by the Maine legislature in early May. Then last week's ruling in California turned in the other direction, upholding that state's ban on same-sex marriage. The one other driver, in late April, was Miss USA contestant Carrie Prejean who voiced disapproval of same-sex unions in response to a pageant judge's question.
The intense social media focus on same-sex marriage stands in stark contrast to mainstream press attention. Over the past two months, the topic generated 11% of the links in the blogosphere but filled just 1% of the newshole in the traditional media.
That disparity in coverage illustrates a basic difference between the traditional media's more hierarchical structure and the online world's self-motivating communities of interest.
Read the full report Ruling on Prop 8 Triggers the Online Debate on the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.