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Social Media Insights Lab analysis: A lot of people don’t believe Alex Murdaugh

Top image: photo of the courthouse by Caroline Berry, Carolina News & Reporter. 
Read more from CN&R:
USC student journalists sit in on Murdaugh double-murder trial, explore its affect on small town

As the nation has watched the trial of Alex Murdaugh unfold in Walterboro, S.C., people across the country have taken to social media to share their opinions about the case and its central figures.

The Social Media Insights Lab at the University of South Carolina reviewed more than 51,000 posts about the trial made in the U.S. between Feb. 22 and 28.  The online conversations peaked Feb. 23 when Murdaugh, who is charged with murdering his wife and son, took the stand in his own defense.

Murdaugh, who is from a powerful family in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, admits to embezzling money, drug addiction and trying to fake a hit on his life. Online opinions about Murdaugh are overwhelmingly negative. 

Among posts containing sentiment, 4,688 were negative and only four spoke positively of Murdaugh. The initial search for posts was completed using software utilizing artificial intelligence and keyword tags, but the negative or positive connotation of each post was assessed by an Insights Lab staff member.

“We looked specifically at posts using the words guilty and innocent,” said lab coordinator St Cyr Luttmer.  “More than twice as many posts used the word guilty (1,115) than innocent (452).”

Some comments compared Murdaugh to former football player O.J. Simpson, who was charged with but not convicted of killing his wife.

The majority of the social media comments about Murdaugh were negative and the same was true of his attorneys. The Insights Lab found 6,676 posts specifically related to Murdaugh’s defense.  Of those containing sentiment, almost all (1,406) were negative. Only eight were positive. 

By comparison, the online view of the prosecution team was more divided. The lab found 281 positive mentions and 229 negative ones. 

“As the trial progressed, there was a continuing debate over the effectiveness of the prosecutor,” said Luttmer. “Many found the emphasis on Murdaugh’s financial crimes detracted from the murder case.”

The lab also looked at posts specifically from South Carolina and found opinions were quite similar to those made elsewhere. South Carolinians were slightly more inclined to believe Murdaugh, equally skeptical of his defense and split on the prosecution.

Data for this report came from a variety sources. The largest portion, 45 percent, came from Twitter.  About 27 percent came from news websites, 25 percent came from Reddit and the rest from other sources. 

To understand who has been most influential in shaping Twitter conversations, the lab’s Brandwatch Consumer Research software used artificial intelligence to evaluate who received the most engagement. Nationally, major news organizations like The New York Times, CNN and Fox News had the most impact.

In South Carolina, Mandy Matney of the Murdaugh Murders Podcast and her colleague Liz Farrell topped a list that included several print and broadcast journalists from the Palmetto State.

The Murdaugh trial has attracted worldwide media attention.  Portions of the testimony have been carried live in the U.S. by the major cable networks as well as local stations in South Carolina.

About the Social Media Insights Lab

The lab is part of the College of Information and Communications. It is used for teaching, academic research and public reports intended to help people better understand issues of the day. View a full list of reports  and follow the lab on Twitter at @UofSCInsights

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