By:
November 16, 2021

Sometimes it’s easy to get sucked into the Twitter echo chamber and become convinced that everyone on the planet is fired up about Donald Trump or Nancy Pelosi or gas prices or who Taylor Swift was singing about for 10 minutes on “Saturday Night Live.” (Jake Gyllenhaal, right?)

The fact of the matter is not everyone is on Twitter. It just seems that way.

According to the latest from the Pew Research Center, about one-quarter of Americans use Twitter. That’s still a pretty chunky percentage, but it’s a good reminder that, despite how it sometimes feels, not everyone is furiously tweeting out venom and spew.

Yet, there are some interesting numbers in the Pew piece, including from “a subset of respondents who shared their Twitter profiles for research purposes, allowing their survey responses to be matched to their actual Twitter activity.”

For example, “46% of these users say the site has increased their understanding of current events in the last year, and 30% say it has made them feel more politically engaged.”

So that could be good.

“On the other hand,” Pew writes, “33% of users report seeing a lot of misleading or inaccurate information there, and 53% say inaccurate or misleading information is a major problem on the site.”

That’s well documented, but disheartening nonetheless.

But this is the part that really stood out to me — and it is something you need to recognize as you scroll through your Twitter feed: “a relatively small share of highly active users produce the vast majority of content. An analysis of tweets by this representative sample of U.S. adult Twitter users from June 12 to Sept. 12, 2021, finds that the most active 25% of U.S. adults on Twitter by tweet volume produced 97% of all tweets from these users.”

That led to these findings: “Although they produce the vast majority of content, highly active tweeters produce relatively few original tweets and receive little engagement from the broader Twitter audience.”

There’s more:

  • About 69% of Twitter users get news from Twitter. Among U.S. adults who turn to Twitter for news, only 8% say it is the most important way they get news. Pew said, “An additional 59% say it is important but not paramount. Fully 70% of Twitter news consumers say they have used Twitter to follow live news events, up from 59% who said this in 2015.”
  • “A majority of Twitter users — even those who say they have private profiles or are not sure of their privacy settings — have a public profile that is visible to anyone.”
  • “Democrats and Republicans on Twitter differ in their views of the major problems on the site and its overall impact on democracy. … Republican Twitter users (including Republican-leaning independents) are roughly twice as likely as Democrats and Democratic leaners to say the site is bad for American democracy (60% vs. 28%). Conversely, roughly half of Democrats who use the site say it is good for American democracy – just 17% of Republican users say the same.”
  • “17% of users say they have experienced harassing or abusive behavior on Twitter personally, and 33% say they see a lot of inaccurate or misleading information.”

There’s much more to the latest Pew numbers, so check it out.

U.S. journalist facing prison time Myanmar is released

American journalist Danny Fenster, left, and Bill Richardson, who helped negotiate the release, at Doha, Qatar airport on Monday. (AP Photo/Luis Costa)

Danny Fenster is an American journalist who was in military-ruled Myanmar. He is the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, an online magazine. Last Friday, he was convicted of spreading false or inflammatory information, contacting illegal organizations and violating visa regulations. (More on that in a second.) He had been in jail since May and was facing 11 years of hard labor.

But good news. He was freed on Monday and is headed back to the U.S. Bill Richardson, a former diplomat and the former governor of New Mexico, helped negotiate the release. Fenster told Al Jazeera that he was feeling “all right physically.”

In a statement, Fenster’s family said, “We are overjoyed that Danny has been released and is on his way home — we cannot wait to hold him in our arms. We are tremendously grateful to all the people who have helped secure his release, especially Ambassador Richardson, as well as our friends and the public who have expressed their support and stood by our sides as we endured these long and difficult months.”

According to The Associated Press’ Grant Peck and David Rising, it isn’t exactly clear what Fenster did to get arrested. Peck and Rising wrote, “… but much of the prosecution’s case appeared to hinge on proving that he was employed by another online news site that was ordered closed this year during a crackdown on the media following the military’s seizure of power. Fenster used to work for the site but left that job last year.”

Peck and Rising added, “(Fenster) is one of more than 100 journalists, media officials or publishers who have been detained since the military ousted the elected government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in February, and his was the harshest sentence yet.”

The Washington Post’s Shibani Mahtani wrote, “In a statement, Frontier Myanmar editor in chief Thomas Kean said Fenster is ‘is one of many journalists in Myanmar who have been unjustly arrested simply for doing their job since the February coup.’ We call on the military regime to release all of the journalists who remain behind bars in Myanmar.’”

Alex Jones liable

Journalists are not supposed to root for outcomes of trials, but it’s hard to imagine anyone felt bad Monday when conspiracy theorist Alex Jones was found liable in a defamation suit filed by families of children who were victims in the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012. A judge in Connecticut ruled that because Jones refused to turn over his financial records and other documents as ordered by the courts, he was liable by default.

Connecticut Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis said, “All the defendants have failed to fully and fairly comply with their discovery obligations.”

This ruling goes along with three previous rulings in Texas. All four for defamation have gone against Jones, the InfoWars founder. For years, Jones has spread various false conspiracies about the Sandy Hook shooting, including that it was staged and the victims’ families were actors. He said it was part of a government plot to confiscate guns from Americans. Jones has since acknowledged the shooting was real.

Next up: Juries in Texas and Connecticut determine how much Jones should pay families in damages, on top of court costs. Those trials will be held next year.

Finally signed

President Joe Biden signs the “Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act” on Monday in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Joe Biden signed the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package into law on Monday. Before signing it, Biden said, “I ran for president believing it was time to rebuild the backbone of this nation which I characterize as working people in the middle class. They are the ones who built the country. And to rebuild the economy from the bottom up and the middle out, this law delivers on that long overdue promise in my view. It creates better jobs for millions of Americans.”

Here are some notable pieces for what it all means:

What if I told you …

Big hire at ESPN. Marsha Cooke has been hired as vice president and executive producer for ESPN Films and “30 for 30.” She will oversee development, production, distribution, branding and strategy of all projects under the ESPN Films umbrella, including the “30 for 30” series. She will report to Brian Lockhart, senior vice president for ESPN Films and original content.

In a statement, Cooke said, “ESPN creates groundbreaking stories for both sports fans and non-sports fans. Quite simply, it’s essential viewing and I’m thrilled to be joining this esteemed organization.”

Cooke joins ESPN from Vice Media Group, where she is senior vice president of global news and special projects. Before that, Cooke spent 24 years at CBS News.

“Marsha’s extensive production experience, creative mind, and global perspective make her a tremendous asset to our team,” Lockhart said. “As we prepare for a dramatic expansion of our storytelling scope, her strategic thinking and leadership will help guide this ambitious next phase of the 30 for 30 brand. We are delighted to welcome her to ESPN.”

The “30 for 30” documentary films have been hugely successful for ESPN, including “The Last Dance” about Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, the incredibly well-done “O.J.: Made in America” documentary about O.J. Simpson and many, many more. Good to see ESPN continuing to show a commitment to this valuable and worthwhile franchise.

A delayed debut

I mentioned in Monday’s newsletter that NBC News’ Hallie Jackson was supposed to launch her daily NBC News NOW streaming show on Monday. But the debut has been delayed because Jackson is under the weather.

In an Instagram post, Jackson called it “the most spectacularly-ill-timed sick day of my career.”

She wrote, “Did I think I’d be running around prepping for our show launch instead of spending the morning trying to hold down shaky sips of water? Yes, yes I did. But apparently sometimes your body randomly decides to remind you how little control you actually have.”

Jackson thanked her colleagues and said she will see viewers “soon.”

She wrote, “And in the meantime, thanks for all the chicken soup vibes :)”

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
Tom Jones

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