Hyperlinking in the global mediasphere: transnational online news flow and intermedia agenda setting

Diyi Liu

Contact: diyi.liu@ruc.edu.cn

This study takes a network approach to examining the changing sphere of global news flow. Building upon the existing international communication literature and intermedia agenda-setting theory, hyperlinks in online news articles, as digital navigational cues and metaphorical signposts which can guide news readers through the complex information landscape, were investigated to map the dynamic structure of the global network and the geopolitics of information in the era of digital capitalism. Over the period from April 22, 2016 to January 28, 2019, The Global Database of Events, Language, and Tone (GDELT) has archived 1.78 billion links from 304 million online news articles in over 100 languages. The domain-level graph showed how many different days and how many total links there were from each news outlet to URLs on any other domain (including subdomains of itself). Based on GDELT’s geographic source lookup which assigned outlets first to their TLD-specified country (excluding cases like ".co"), then to their Global Knowledge Graph (GKG)-suggested primary country of focus, then finally to the country where they are incorporated or the entity that controls their domain is registered, this study roughly placed the online news outlets geographically in space. By incorporating intermedia agenda-setting theory, we assumed that the way each news outlet cited the others suggested the transfer of issue salience between different news agendas. In total, 30,072,787 records were analyzed in this study as a directional network, with each news site as a node, and the total links as the weight of each edge. We then run the modularity algorithm in Gephi to visualize and understand various clusters which may imply the geopolitical layout behind the current international media landscape. Preliminary findings revealed that the internet has revolutionalized the ecology of global news production, with information on social network sites including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, followed by web portals and emerging news aggregators including MSN, Google, Yahoo and Inquisitr serving as primary sources of online discussions. It suggested that an online mediascape where few traditional, elite news media have transformed successfully to their online editions, turning out to be primary bridges while non-mainstream media, with tabloidish culture, have been gaining increasing influence and power to set the global agenda. In addition, the framework to conceptualize countries with different political and economic statuses like World System Theory and Dependency Theory was tested in the current information network. Among and within different clusters, it is found that a handful of “global media core” countries still influence the semiperiphery and periphery countries, while the news flow is not as hierarchical and US-centric as before. Contradicting the flat-world hypothesis, global online journalism follows the rule of provincialism. As far as the cultural factors and language barriers are concerned, the presses of non-English countries tend to form isolated clusters which are heavily internally connected, with few bridging outlets connecting them to the rest of the world, among which emerging media in developing countries, including Chinese Twitter-like Sina Weibo had relatively high weighted degrees in the network.

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