The End of Gawker: Tweeting About Univision, but Searching for Hulk Hogan

Yesterday, news broke that Gawker will be shut down. And while the site’s end may have been a surprise to some, what led to it is a hardly a mystery. In fact, Twitter foreshadowed it. Over the last six months, Twitter mentions of Gawker have spiked around stories related Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, and Gawker’s bankruptcy. As Gawker’s last week unfolded in the news, it was these topics that drove the story on Twitter and via Google-searches.

Twitter Volume over the Last Six Months (March — August, 2016)

To understand how the story evolves, the best practices are to break down the story’s components, compare them across multiple data streams, and look at those elements across multiple segments of the population. Categorizing Twitter mentions into various topics using keywords associated with the Gawker story reveals not only when each aspect of the story breaks, but also the magnitude of interest on Twitter related to that aspect.

Twitter Volume over Last Five Days (August 14–19, 2016)

Note that Peter Thiel’s op-ed on the Gawker sale broke an entire day before discussion about the actual sale spiked. But the op-ed garnered less than a fifth of the mentions than the sale did. Univision dominated the conversation overall during this period, while Hulk Hogan was least discussed among these topics.

Influential members of the tech media community and Beltway Elites drove the story online. Conservatives and Liberals paid considerably less attention to Gawker news. (This is based on segmenting the conversation into 1,000-person samples of influential Twitter audiences.) Discussion about Univision was the dominant topic related to the Gawker story across all audiences, as it was for all Twitter users.

Compared to all U.S. Twitter users, Tech and Beltway Elite Twitter influencers were more interested in talking about the bankruptcy and Peter Thiel than merely Gawker’s shutting down. The conversation overall on Twitter saw twice as many tweets about the company ceasing operations relative to other aspects.

Google Trends search data compared to Twitter suggests a slightly different story. Searches for Gawker in conjunction with Hulk Hogan dominate during the periods of the Thiel op-ed release and news that Gawker will shut down. Because Google Trends serves as a measure of demand for information, it can be said that more people wanted to learn more about Hulk Hogan’s relationship to the story than anything else.

Google Trends: Gawker-Related Queries

Univision may have been the final word on Gawker, but based on Twitter discussions and Google-search traffic, it was Thiel and Hogan that started the sentence.

It’s critical to look at a story from numerous perspectives, by breaking it down into component parts, using multiple sources, and looking at different segments within the population. Different groups of people will focus on different aspects of a news story at different times. Additionally, a data stream like Google Trends is not the same as mentions on Twitter, and that should be taken into account when looking at every aspect of the news cycle. But most importantly, a news story isn’t always simplistic; it can almost always be evaluated on a more granular level.