Sep 20, 2020 - Politics & Policy

RBG death shifts social media conversation

Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Ruth Bader Ginsburg-related social media interactions dwarfed all other topics this week — a departure from a run of weeks where, other than the coronavirus, violence in cities was the dominant storyline.

The big picture: In just two days, there were 41 million interactions (likes, comments or shares) on stories about the late Supreme Court justice, according to exclusive NewsWhip data.

  • That compares with a recent average of 62 million coronavirus interactions per week — and more than five times the number of weekly social media interactions over violence and rioting.

Why it matters: Until now, coverage of violence in cities (17.1m per week) has been getting way more traction and eyeballs on social media than other stories dominating the news — including Trump revelations from Bob Woodward's new book and devastation from the wildfires in the West.

Driving the news: Of those topics, the most viral stories in the past two months got very little national attention on cable news and mainstream media.

  • They were: "Chicago looters attacked Ronald McDonald House with sick children inside, charity says" (Washington Times, 2.02m interactions); and "BREAKING: Over 100 Police Agencies Pull Out of Agreements To Guard DNC Convention" (Daily Wire, 1.87m).
  • Peak interest around the Trump revelations in Woodward's book reached 14.3 million interactions the week of Sept. 7. Attention for the wildfires hit 14.4 million interactions that same week.
  • On stories about antifa, looting and rioting, there have been five weeks with more than 15 million interactions in the last two months.

Between the lines: While RBG's legacy and the political fight to replace her is of keen interest to Americans on both sides of the aisle, conservatives may be better positioned to lean into it on social media.

  • The movement's potency on Facebook is one of the biggest weapons in the GOP's arsenal heading into the election.

But, but, but: The coronavirus is still the topic consistently driving the most social media buzz.

  • It has held the top spot for months, with short-term exceptions in weeks following George Floyd's killing and Jacob Blake's shooting.
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