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The Numbers Crunch: Gay marriage in the spotlight
By ELANA KIRSH
05/18/2012
Ya’alon support for same-sex marriage garners engagement on social media; Facebook facts, figures to mark IPO.
 
After a month’s hiatus, The Numbers Crunch began sifting through piles of news data this week, a significant proportion of which concerned US President Barack Obama’s voicing of support for gay marriage last week. Figures from the Pew Research Center found that while the comments stirred up significant news interest, trended strongly on Twitter and topped the blogs topics list, ultimately they made no meaningful difference to public opinion.

The PRC’s news interest index found that in the past week, Obama’s support for gay marriage was top story in terms of news interest in the US, though it came in second in terms of coverage. A quarter of respondents (26 percent) saw the story as “most interesting,” though it filled 14% of the newshole. In comparison, 11% were most interested in the US Presidential race and that topic made up for 15% of news coverage.

On new media, another PRC index found that statements in favor of Obama’s voicing of support outnumbered opposing sentiments by more than 2-to-1. As in traditional media, levels of support for gay marriage did not change significantly before and after Obama’s comments: Before the interview, the report found, “40% of the statements were in favor compared to 16% opposed and 44% neutral. In the later period, those numbers were virtually identical - 40% in favor, 14% opposed, and 46% neutral.”

Looking at the effects of coverage and discussion from a political perspective, over 50% said that Obama’s expression of support for same-sex marriage had no influence on their opinion of the US president.

The divisive issue also stirred up engagement on The Jerusalem Post’s social media channels. The most popular JPost story on Facebook covered an interview that Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon gave after Obama’s interview, in which he declared that Israel should recognize same-sex marriage.

Top Five JPost stories on Facebook:
1. Ya'alon supports recognition of same-sex marriage
2. European FMs criticize Israel, settler violence
3. Most Jews react positively to Obama on gay marriage
4. Who is the world's most influential Jew?
5. Iran hangs 'Mossad agent' for killing scientist

On JPost.com, however, a feature piece about heavy metal in the Middle East took the top spot. There was no obvious common thread through the rest of the Top Five list, with stories spanning topics of diplomacy, politics and local news.

JPost Top Five most-read stories:
1. Heavy metal unites Jews, Muslims across Middle East
2. 'Putin said Israel would take care of Iran'
3. PMO: Palestinians should direct anger at leaders
4. Ramon quits Kadima in protest of unity deal
5. 5.3 magnitude earthquake shakes Israel, Lebanon

On the talkback forums, by way of contrast, stories on diplomacy and advocacy were a strong trend. A story on a European Union document criticizing Israel garnered over 1,000 comments, and readers posted responses pro-peace statements from both Israeli and Palestinians leaders.

JPost Top Five most-active threads:
1. EU issues second document blasting Israel
2. European FMs criticize Israel, settler violence
3. PLO: Netanyahu letter on peace a non-starter
4. Israel, PA pledge commitment to peace
5. Poll: Israel viewed negatively around the world

Zooming out to international news, the PRC found that after Obama’s gay marriage statements and developments in the US Presidential race, news from Yemen and China also stirred up interest in the US. Some 24% of the US public followed the story of an undercover agent in Yemen who foiled a plot to blow up a US-bound plane, according to the PRC index. Reports on the failed plot made up 7% of the news hole.

In other foreign news, talks between US and Chinese officials over Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng’s fate continued to attract what the PRC termed “modest attention.” A steady 15% of respondents were found to have followed the story very closely, which 3% said they followed this story most closely. Coverage on the activist’s situation, however, was  down to 1% of coverage from 12% the previous week.

Regional affairs, including the Israel-Palestinian peace process, violence in Syria and the Iranian nuclear threat were absent from both the news interest and the news coverage data.

Meanwhile, as new media increasingly turns this planet into a global village, a separate PRC poll found that over 70% of Americans still follow local news closely. At least two-thirds of those people followed topics such as weather, breaking news, politics and crime.

The study found that local news enthusiasts were more likely to seek out such news on traditional media (largely newspapers or television news), rather than on the Internet. In fact, of those surveyed, the people less likely to follow local news were also more likely to use the Internet. For breaking local news, where the immediacy of the Internet is usually a huge pull factor, 62% of respondents said they would turn to television news. Not surprisingly, the study found a strong correlation between age and reliance on newspapers and television over the Internet.

To wrap up, some data from a “Facebook profile” put together by the PRC, as the social networking giant set the share price for its first public stock offering at $38 and made final preparations for a market debut later Friday. The research found that the average Facebook user has 229 friends on the network, and that in an average day:
  •     15% of Facebook users update their own status.
  •     22% comment on another's post or status.
  •     20% comment on another user's photos.
  •     26% "Like" another user's content.
  •     10% send another user a private message.
The study also found that people who use the social network are more politically engaged. A Facebook user who visits the site more than once a day, according to the PRC, is 250% more likely to “attend a political rally or meeting, 57% more likely to persuade someone on their vote, and 43% more likely to have said they would vote.”

From news sites to blogs, tweets to videos, The Numbers Crunch is a weekly column which zooms out and brings you the big picture online, from Israel, the Middle East and around the world, and poll results from JPost.com.

The writer is the Internet desk manager at The Jerusalem Post
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