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Axios-NewsWhip 2020 attention tracker: Guns surge to top of national conversation

Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

After the mass shootings last weekend, gun violence has displaced immigration as the most-talked about news topic on social media for the first time since May, according to data from NewsWhip provided exclusively to Axios.

Why it matters: The emotional intensity of gun violence makes it a topic that generates ferocious debate and calls for action on social media after a high-profile event. Yet the activism is cyclical, and the issue has yet to be a defining issue in elections.

Between the lines: Video games were the topic adjacent to the shooting that generated the most interactions (retweets, likes, comments, shares) on Facebook and Twitter (2.08M) for stories written on the Saturday of the shootings as well as the following two days.

  • These pieces were largely blowback against President Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy for comments that video games were to blame for the shootings.
  • Other countries with similar or higher rates of video game playing have lower rates of shootings.
  • Other topics we examined that were related to the shooting included white supremacy, white nationalism, domestic terrorism, 8chan and mental illness.

The big picture: Unlike most other hot-button political topics, most of the stories that went the farthest about the weekend shootings were straightforward breaking news headlines without partisan tilt.

  • Accounts of heroism were the genre of non-breaking news that generated the most interactions.

2020 candidates: While many of the 2020 Democrats sought to place responsibility for the shootings on Trump, these stories largely didn't break through.

  • Among the 75 biggest stories about guns and shootings from last week (which included the Gilroy Garlic shooting from the previous weekend) only two of these stories were about comments from 2020 candidates:
    • Pete Buttigieg: America 'Under Attack From Homegrown White Nationalist Terrorists' (HuffPost, 147k interactions)
    • Beto O'Rourke: Trump's 'racism' leads to violence like El Paso mass shooting (CNN, 93k)
  • The mass shootings were the biggest story for just 5 of the candidates on the week that included the second debate. Three of those 5 came from conservative outlets.

Our 2020 attention tracker is based on data from NewsWhip exclusively provided to Axios as part of a project that will regularly update throughout the 2020 campaign.

See all past editions of the tracker here.