Hyper-Partisan Pages Still Outperforming Mainstream Media on Facebook.

One year after the election of Donald Trump, polarizing and partisan content continues to outperform mainstream media on the world’s largest social network.

Spend any measurable time talking with journalists and you’ll be bombared with critiques of Facebook. Some theories are farcical, such as Facebook purposefully crushing organic page reach of publishers so they are forced to Facebook ads to reach their fans (I honestly doubt Zuckerberg, or anyone else at Facebook, thinks newspapers have big ad budgets.) Others, such as Facebook being a prime vehicle for spreading devisive, sensationalistic, half-truths ring, very, very true.

Just How Polarized Is Facebook?

To demystify this topic, I took to Facebook’s CrowdTangle tool and pulled a year’s worth of data from a sampling of left-wing pages, right-wing pages and mainstream media sources.

I settled on two metrics provided by CrowdTangle…

  1. Link Interaction Rate - According to CrowdTangle’s glossary, interaction rate is “calculated by averaging the number of interactions for all of the account’s posts in the specified time frame, then dividing that by the number of followers/fans.” This metric essentially shows us how effective the page is at engaging its owned audience.
  2. Total Interactions - This is the total number of interactions on all posts from the page. This metric tells us the page’s overall influence in the Facebook ecosystem.

I selected eight pages to measure…

Right-Wing Pages
Gateway Pundit, Breitbart

Left-Wing Pages
The Other 98%, Occupy Democrats

Mainstream Pages
NPR, Washington Post, New York Times, CNN

Findings

Unsurprisingly, throughout 2017, partisan pages enjoyed significantly higher Interaction Rates than mainstream pages. Somewhat surprisingly, it appears left-wing pages garnered roughly twice the interaction rate than right-wing pages. This runs counter to many individuals’ current line of thinking around how right-wing media dominates the social media landscape.

The data doesn’t look much different when you view the raw total interaction numbers.

Month-by-Month View

The graphs below breakout performance by page and by month.

Data from CrowdTangle, Link Interaction Rate as of 1/30/18, includes an additional right-wing source not factored into averages.
Data from CrowdTangle, Total Interactions as of 1/30/18, includes an additional right-wing source not factored into averages.

Virtually all of the pages included in this report saw substantial engagement around the time of Trump’s inauguration and then slowing performance over the course of the year. The one exception to this is Breitbart, who has seen increased interactions on their Facebook page since about April.

Zuck’s Acknowledgement

Earlier this month Zuckerberg took to Facebook, posting a note where he effectively acknowledges Facebook has become a place for “sensationalism, misinformation and polarization”.

Read Zuck’s full post: https://www.facebook.com/zuck/posts/10104445245963251

Zuck wraps up this section of his note explaining that it is important for News Feed to promote high quality journalism that builds a sense of common ground, as opposed to generating more polarization.

While it certainly seems as though Facebook is trending in the direction of polarization, it is unclear if user behavior, platform behavior or some combination of the two are responsible for the general decline in engagement over the course of the year.

We know that Facebook is working on a number of new projects to improve the quality of news that is spread on the platform.

Hopefully we’ll see Zuck’s vision pan out sooner rather than later.

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