Event Detail

Reading Twitter in the Newsroom: How Social Media Affects Traditional-Media Reporting of Conflicts

Presented by:
Ekaterina Zhuravskaya
Department of Economics
Paris School of Economics

Friday, March 19, 2021
On-line via Zoom
12:00 pm-1:15 pm

Traditional media is not immune to the influence of social media. Content trending on social media in Israel and Palestine has a significant causal impact on journalists’ reporting of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the US. We rely on exogenous variation in the number of tweets about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict driven by local Twitter blackouts, caused by lightning strikes and technical failures. These blackouts, while having a strong and significant negative impact on the Twitter activity of regular citizens in Israel and Palestine, do not have any effect on all major news wires or tweets from journalists reporting from the conflict zone. Using this variation, we show that comparable conflict events get significantly higher TV coverage in the US if they happen to trend on Twitter in Israel and Palestine. Using text analysis of transcripts of US TV programs, we document that the content and the tonality of coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is affected by social media. On average, Twitter makes traditional-media reporting of the conflict more emotional. Particularly, these are the events leading to Palestinian casualties that get significantly more emotional coverage by US TV when conflict-zone Twitter is not muted by blackouts. The US TV coverage of the events leading to Israeli casualties is emotional irrespective of the trends on Twitter. When Twitter is not muted in Israel and Palestine, the US TV reporters who cover the conflict focus more on stories about civilians’ suffering, the details of attacks, and the need for a long-term solution for the conflict, and focus less on the role of US foreign policy, aid, and Israeli defense systems. The results suggest that Twitter moves traditional-media reporting of conflict toward portraying the point of view of ordinary people, eventually helping the side that suffers a higher civilian death toll.