What Determines the Global Communication Order: A Network Analysis of Transnational News Flow in Digital Mediasphere


In an interconnected digital world, information, or news in particular, plays a crucial role in this network of exchange. Some classical laws in international communication, including Wallerstein’s World System Theory, have developed various frameworks to conceptualize nation-states with different political and economic statuses, suggesting that countries were arrayed along a center-semiperipheral-peripheral dimension in the international information network.

This study takes a network approach to examining the changing sphere of global news flow -- one of the chief subjects in international communication -- and the systematic determinants behind it. Building upon the existing literature which indicated internal and external variables that had been shown to have significant effects on global news flow, hyperlinks in online 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.

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. 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, we roughly placed the online news outlets geographically in space.

In total, 30,072,787 records were preliminarily analyzed as a directional network, with each news site as a node, and the total links as the weight of each edge. We then ran the modularity algorithm in Gephi to agglomerate and visualize various geopolitical clusters. 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, the news outlets 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 a relatively high weighted degree within the network, serving as the so-called global contra-flow.

However, with the immense number of such sites, the resulting graph was far too dense to reveal much. Thus this following study excludes the non-news websites ranging from social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to official sites of large transnational corporations like Go.com by The Walt Disney Company, to focus on the linking structure among online news communities. More importantly, multiple regression analysis is conducted to test factors including economic development, linguistic traditions, political freedom, etc., that may determine the new global information and communication order.