Searching for the Global Audience: A Comparative, Multiple-Method Analysis of a Global Trending Topic on Twitter
Twitter was one of the first social media platforms to launch a trending topics feature in 2008. This feature became a widely referenced, condensed descriptor of peaks in social media activity and a place where one could, ostensibly, see what the world was talking about. Yet, more than 10 years later, a lack of systematic research persists on what trends actually reveal, particularly about audiences on a global scale. This article takes a multiple-methods approach to critically unpack more than 15 million #Rio2016 tweets in English, Portuguese, and Russian. #Rio2016 is significant for becoming Twitter’s top-trending topic globally in 2016 and for its Olympic context, comprising the world’s biggest media event. The findings show that global trends mask both important cultural nuances in mediated practices and long-standing issues in communication research to promote an ephemeral, output-driven understanding of audiences. The present study advances media research through a comparative, empirical examination of trending topics and their global and institutional creators.