Alyssa Kratz

#Election2016: An Analysis of Twitter and Its Impact on Media Gatekeeping”

In the context of news dissemination, gatekeeping is a core concept which facilitates the rather complex process. Traditionally, it has been the role of one or few individual(s), such as a reporter or wire editor, to play “gatekeeper,” making decisions as to which pieces of news are printed on the front page of a newspaper or broadcasted on television, and therefore reach the public eye. Today, we live in a world consumed by social media and other online sources accessible to anyone. Twitter, specifically, has become a popular source of news for millions of users. Whether it be about an unplanned event like the Boston Marathon Bombings or a planned event such as a political election, people are not only reading news on Twitter, but are also reporting it through the site. Anyone with a smartphone and a Twitter account has the power to be a gatekeeper of the news, just by making the decision to retweet an individual tweet or follow a specific account.

Using the 2016 U.S. presidential election as a lens to look at how the reporting and sharing of news on Twitter in the midst of a major planned event compares to that of an unplanned event, this project looks at which types of users are the most influential on Twitter during a planned event. Using an online Twitter scraping tool called DMI-TCAT, tweets containing at least one of three non-partisan hashtags (#Election2016, #ElectionDay, and #ElectionNight) were collected and analyzed through both a quantitative frequency count method and qualitative content analysis approach. This data was used to track the most mentioned and most retweeted users, which was in turn used to determine which users were most influential, and therefore acting as gatekeepers. While it was expected that journalists (both professional and citizen) would have a greater presence, they were overshadowed by two other groups, “Celebrities/Public Figures” and “Influencers,” who were the most influential users in all of the datasets. The user influence trends seen in the results of this project give insight into how traditional media gatekeeping does still exist, but has been shifted to fit the mold of Twitter’s interface. The implications that this shift has on journalism are also explored within this project.