Pew Study Identifies Islam as No. 1 Religious News Topic in 2010; Uses Crimson Hexagon for Social Media Analysis

Events and controversies related to Islam dominated U.S. press coverage of religion in 2010, bumping the Catholic Church from the top spot, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
Much of the coverage focused on the plan to build a mosque and Islamic center near ground zero in New York City, a Florida pastor’­s threat to organize a public burning of the Koran and commemorations of the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
PEJ and the Pew Forum used the Crimson Hexagon platform to analyze a broader range of social media conversations about the New York City mosque controversy during the period when the debate was most intense, Aug. 16-Sept. 13, 2010. That analysis monitored the tone of the conversations on blogs, Twitter and public forums.
Key findings related specifically to Pew’s social media analysis include the following:

  • In 2010, religion appeared as a major topic more often in the blogosphere than it did in traditional media. Religion was among the most-discussed topics on blogs in 12 of the 48 weeks studied by PEJ and the Pew Forum. In three of those weeks, the plan to build a mosque and Islamic center near ground zero was among the top subjects.
  • Analysis of social media, produced with technology from Crimson Hexagon, indicates that people who were active on social media sites were deeply divided about the proposed New York City mosque. About a quarter of the comments about the mosque and Islamic center posted on blogs, Twitter and online forums were neutral in character; the remaining comments were roughly evenly divided between those ardently for and those ardently against construction of the proposed mosque and Islamic center, now known as Park51, for its location at 51 Park Place in Lower Manhattan.


Religion in Social Media

Social Media and the Mosque Near Ground Zero: Tone of the Debate
To study blogs, Twitter, forums and message boards, this study used technology from Crimson Hexagon, which identifies statistical patterns in the words used to express opinions on different topics. Crimson Hexagon was used to analyze these platforms for a monthís time, Aug. 16-Sept. 13, 2010, for themes relating to the Park51 mosque and Islamic center.
The period marks the time when the subject of the mosque was most widely covered in the media. Attention to the matter shot up after Obama addressed the issue on Aug. 13. Attention dissipated markedly around the Labor Day holiday and then rose again as the anniversary of Sept. 11 approached. Attention began to drop off again after Sept. 11, when memorial ceremonies had ended and Jones’ Koran-burning event was cancelled.
The analysis of blogs and social media reveals a roughly even division of sentiment for and against the proposed mosque. Among bloggers, Twitter users and online forum participants, 35% favored Park51, while 39% opposed it. Only slightly more than a quarter of the social media conversation (28%) was neutral.
Of the opinions expressed in favor of the mosque, a portion focused on criticizing conservatives who opposed the mosque rather than on making a case in favor of the proposed project. Those accounted for 11% of all opinions, either positive or negative. For example, a Sept. 8 post titled ‘tolerance’ on said, ‘It’s not even noon yet and my brain is already fried trying to untwist GOP logic.’
Of all postings, both for and against the mosque, 13% explicitly defended the proposal, arguing either that its planners have a constitutional right to freely exercise their faith or that they would be doing the country a service by promoting peaceful, interfaith dialogue.
One Twitter user used the 140 allotted characters to make the point succinctly: ‘RT @tavissmiley Do Muslims have the right to build a mosque near New York’s ground zero? ëYes, of course.í Shortest talk show ever.’
The remaining positive opinions contained a mixture of critiques of the opposition as well as arguments in favor of the project.
On the other side of the issue, among all those who used social media platforms to express opposition to the mosque, a portion of the postings focused on criticizing those who supported Park51. This accounted for 12% of all opinions about the matter. On Aug. 17, for example, the author of wrote that, ‘By now we’ve figured out that the Ground Zero Victory Mosque is moving forward because our liberal rulers want it there. It seems incomprehensible, but once we’ve gotten our heads around Barack Hussein Obama’s election – and the hard shove from the liberal elite that made it happen – we can understand this too.’
But a slightly higher portion of those who used social media to comment on the mosque (14% in all) tried to make the case that the mosque should not be built. ‘The Mosque in New York on groud (sic) zero is a slap in the face of Americans,’ tweeted Lakedude1k on the same day.
Most of the opinions on the topic (about 75%) came from blogs. The rest came from Twitter (16%) and social forums, such as message boards that allow users to contribute opinions around a chosen topic (9%). The volume of opinions peaked early during the period studied, but decreased by a total of 82% over the course of the month studied.
Access the complete Pew Research report here.
As always, we’ll continue analyzing the space for interesting trends. In the meantime, feel free contact us at with questions or to learn how your market, brand or product could benefit from leveraging the Crimson Hexagon ForSight™ platform for social media monitoring and analysis. Want to see the Crimson Hexagon platform in action? Request a Live Online Demo.

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