Facebook, Conservative News and How You Get to 1.5 Billion Users
As the CEO of a company that monitors content on Facebook, I’ve been closely following all the discussions this week about Trending Topics and the News Feed.
Thanks to our work at CrowdTangle, we have a lot of data about what works and what doesn’t on Facebook. I wanted to share a few data points we have that I thought are worth being a part of the discussion…and also a few observations & thoughts about the conversation more broadly.
Fox News drives more interactions on its Facebook Page than any other news outlet in the world (and it’s not even close)
Here’s a look at the news outlets that have driven the most interactions (likes, shares and comments) on posts from their Facebook Pages in 2016.
Not only does Fox News have twice as many interactions as everyone else on that list but they are posting less than everyone else…and they have half the audience of CNN and BBC News.
If you are simply comparing them to other major news outlets, their content is getting a ton of engagement on Facebook and that means it’s showing up constantly in a lot of people’s News Feed.
Conservative media outlets generally do just as well as progressive ones
We took a list of the top 10 conservative Pages and the top 10 progressive ones (listed below) and how they performed over the last 6 months. Here are some of the findings:
- They both average roughly the same interaction rate (.17%-.18%)
- They both averaged around the same growth rate (14%)
In general, their content performs essentially the same.
What does this mean?
None of the data above is meant to disprove or prove anything about how Trending Topics works or even what human-driven algorithmic weights may or may not exist in the News Feed algorithm when it comes to politics. Instead, I think it does say one thing: news stories from conservative Facebook Pages do just as well, if not better, than progressive ones.
The truth is that the biggest stories on Facebook aren’t political
I think it’s worth pointing that out that among news outlets (and even among political news outlets), the stories that get the most engagement tend to be things that aren’t political at all. For instance, this was the biggest post from Fox News in all of 2015:
We know that American politics has become very polarized and a lot of news is filtered through our political preferences and those of our friends…but in the end, I actually think it’s really important (and reassuring) that the things that move us the most tend to be stories about our underlying shared humanity, not our political ideologies.
Could there still be a bias at play?
Maybe…only a handful of people would actually know for sure. But in all our interactions with Facebook, and after several years of being buried in Facebook data, the single most common bias I’ve seen is Facebook trying to give users what they want.
However, it is easy to understimate how hard that is.
Facebook has 1.5 billion users. The amount of data that they are recording every second is absolutely overwhelming. Moreover, the data isn’t necessarily easy to translate easily into user preferences. For instance, this was one of the most engaging posts of 2015:
Does that mean all those people want similar memes in their feed all the time? Probably not.
How you get to 1.5 billion users
Right now, Facebook is pouring tons of resources into Live Video and it’s in part because they saw numbers showing users spent way more time with Live videos versus other content.
Facebook is also moving heavily towards Instant Articles, in large part because it delivers faster load times and a better user experience for consuming links. (Speaking of which, one of the interesting and less talked about aspects of Instant Articles is that it should have a massive impact on helping Facebook deliver a better News Feed. Facebook will now get a lot more inputs what users do after they’ve clicked on a link and in the process, hopefully, get a lot better at delivering links their users want to see).
The point is that if you look at Facebook’s product and user-experience decisions over the years, the single most unifying thread is that they are trying to get more users to spend more time on their platform.
Or in other words, to create the best possible experience for the most number of people as possible.
What does all that mean?
Folks have already covered why the Trending News box isn’t nearly as meaningful as the News Feed itself, so I’ll simply end by pointing out that in a country where half the population regularly votes for Republican candidates, it’s hard to imagine any company with a mission as large as Facebook’s jeopardizing that much market share for ideological reasons.
Morever, the things that do impact its huge user base…namely its major product initiatves and perhaps most importantly, the publicly available data about what is actually in the feed and what’s not…point to a neutral platform trying to serve a massive & diverse audience (including a whole lot of conservative users).
In the end, Facebook is a company of staggering size and that has incredibly important implications for it’s role in the world…implications that should be discussed publicly; however, it has largely gotten there by being a company driven by building products that its users love to spend time with…regardless of their political persuasions.
A quick note about our data. We are measuring Facebook Pages. So, the data above is how well public posts from these Facebook Pages do. This does not include targeted posts or how stories do if they are not posted on a Page. That means it’s not a comprehensive analysis, but hopefully interesting nonetheless.
What is CrowdTangle?
Good question! You can learn more at crowdtangle.com or just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.