Social media is where more of on-the-ground political conversation is happening than ever before, largely through link sharing. It's the site of Glenn Beck's social revival, and a high impact for Rachel Maddow.
As news organizations and political campaigns alike struggle to understand what will go most viral on the new playing fields of Facebook, Twitter, and the rest of the social web, at Newswhip, which tracks content on Facebook and Twitter, has sampled a week's worth of news from the "leading left- and right-wing news sources" it tracks using its Spike system to get a sense of what sharing looks like for partisan publications.
One surprising result, at least in this Newswhip study: Glenn Beck's startup The Blaze has quickly surpassed its conservative competitors by many measures of sharing, even as it holds a lower profile in the elite conversation.
The data from Newswhip's sources, which range from the progressive magazine Mother Jones to Fox News — though Newship says it "deliberately excluded plenty of 'mainstream media sources' that people on either side might consider to be biased," so there are limits to what it's looking at — offer a complex picture of what goes viral: Some of it is affirmation or good news for partisans, like Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama was for Democrats; some is the mirror image of that — stories casting your foe in a bad light, like a Fox News report accusing President Obama of abandoning Americans in Benghazi.
And while the inclusion of online media giant Huffington Post skews the numbers for biggest social reach, the key figure may be in the middle, the most interactions per story, owned by Maddow Blog on the left and The Blaze on the right.
One crucial question, which the figure doesn't answer: Are these sites getting more sharing because they are more ideological than partisan, each tied more to the beliefs of liberals or conservatives respectively than to their candidates? Another: Are people sharing in the hopes of persuading what are often relatively politically diverse groups of Facebook friends? And is some content too shrill, or too slanted, to share?
The data below, which again comes from the limited set of outlets that Newswhip tracks and considers to be "leading left- and right-wing news sources," don't answer all those questions, but they offer clues for media organizations and political campaigns alike.