Drowning Out the Message Together: Analysis of Social Media Comments on a Political Sex Scandal

Elina Erzikova, Corbin McLean


This study content analyzed online comments on Fox News and CNN’s YouTube platforms related to news stories on the 2017 special election for the U.S. Senate in Alabama. Republican candidate Roy Moore attracted widespread media attention one month prior to the election – after being accused of sexual misconduct for alleged relationships decades before his run for U.S. Senate. Comment threads were polarized on the two ideologically different forums (CNN and Fox News) as well as within these forums. The latter indicated a crossover effect or the tendency of social media users to leave comments on an ideologically opposing forum. Regardless of being “native” or crossovers, commenters tended to drown out reporters’ messages by introducing new discussion topics. Through the examination of the most popular comments, this study argues for the need for a more nuanced approach to understanding audience gatekeeping in today’s polarized media environment. The article highlights the importance of monitoring online comments to understand the power of the audience to exercise control over the direction of social media commentary.


gatekeeping; journalism; online comments; polarization; drowning effect

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