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Andrew Breitbart's death brings mix of sadness, glee on Twitter

March 1, 2012 |  8:16 pm
Andrew Breitbart
In death, it seems, Andrew Breitbart has as much ability to divide as he did in life.

News that the conservative provocateur was dead at 43 sparked sharply different reactions on Twitter, according to analysis by San Francisco-based Kanjoya.

"The attitude toward Breitbart's death on Twitter is almost evenly split between the expected sadness at the passing of a thought leader, and vindictive/gleeful anger that he's gone," said Kanjoya founder Armen Berjikly.

PHOTOS: Andrew Breitbart's 10 key media moments

Kanjoya uses a computer algorithm to track sentiment in social media. An average of about 1,200 tweets an hour tied to Breitbart were analyzed by the company Thursday, Berjikly said.

"The initial reaction itself spawned a meta-level argument between the two camps either celebrating the mockery (mostly by referencing how Breitbart mocked Ted Kennedy on his death) or saying that the left's celebration of his death is both motivational to the right, and proof that Breitbart was correct in his characterization of the left," he said.

Kanjoya said he detected "anger" in tweets such as:

"Was offended by some of these Breitbart jokes till I was reminded the day after Ted Kennedy died, he called him a 'pile of human excrement,' " from @JamesGunn.

But anger also cut the other direction, with Breitbart supporters upset with those being critical.

"Breitbart would be enjoying this -- tweeting the absurdity of the left. More motivation to fight," tweeted @WhitneyNeal.

From the left, Kanjoya found concern that Breitbart's death will effectively "whitewash/deify," Breitbart's edgy and aggressive tactics.

"Instead of warning ppl abt making jokes abt Breitbart, start warning media pundits about trying to whitewash & deify his legacy!" wrote @PragObots.

Well-known in conservative circles for his early work in the Drudge Report and his open loathing of the mainstream media, Breitbart made his name with a wider audience with two stories: the Anthony Weiner sex scandal and the video of Shirley Sherrod.

Breitbart broke the story about sexually charged tweets by liberal Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York which ultimately led to Weiner's resignation.

Breitbart also posted a video of Shirley Sherrod, a black employee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in which she appeared to make racially charged comments. Sherrod was fired by the Obama administration, which later apologized when it was later revealed her comments were taken out of context.

From the right, possible conspiracy theories about Breitbart's untimely and unexpected death -- his family has said he apparently suffered a heart attack while walking near his Westwood home -- quickly surfaced on Twitter.

"Press guy Jay Carney should prepare for the question... Was Obama behind the death of Andrew Breitbart?" wrote @FreeMktMonkey.

And from @PDMacGuire: "Obama may have silenced Breitbart but he can't kill all of us or silence the truth."

By Thursday evening, Kanjoya detected a turn in the conversation's tone. Earlier in the day, "angry" tweets outpaced "sad" by 2 to 1, according to the analysis. 

"Sadness is now pulling ahead slightly, 40% of expressed emotion versus 35% for anger," Berjikly said.


Twitter reaction to Breitbart's death 

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Andrew Breitbart probably died of heart attack, family says

-- Megan Garvey

Photo: Andrew Breitbart at home in 2010. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times