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By the Numbers: Here's How Members of Congress Did on Facebook in June - September

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Facebook pages associated with members of both major political parties have continued to fluctuate in the months following the social media giant’s major algorithm changes earlier in 2018, according to new analysis by The Western Journal.

After Facebook implemented changes to its News Feed algorithm in January, The Western Journal confirmed that publishers, including public officials, had been significantly affected by the change.

According to ongoing analysis of more recent data, pages associated with members of both major political parties saw a significant decrease in interactions with readers following the change in January.

Analysis of data from June, July, August and September showed that the interaction rate on Republican and Democratic congressional Facebook pages had a smaller decrease in interaction rate than in previous months.

The Numbers

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The Western Journal recently analyzed the interaction rates on congressional Facebook pages from June through September 2018.

For comparison, previous analysis had shown pages operated by Democratic politicians had an interaction rate of .89 during February through June, whereas pages owned by their Republican counterparts saw only a .41 interaction rate.

Speaking very generally, interaction rates for Democrat-run pages have fallen somewhat since then, while rates for Republicans have trended in the other direction. Also generally, Republican senators seem to have fared marginally better than their counterparts on the other side of the aisle, while Democratic House members continue to see slightly better interactions rates than Republicans.


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In June, Democratic pages had a 0.71 percent interaction rate, while there was a 0.55 percent interaction rate on Republican pages. In the House of Representatives, there was a 0.64 percent interaction rate on Democratic pages and a 0.51 percent interaction rate on Republican pages. In the Senate, Democratic pages had a 0.78 percent interaction rate compared to a 0.59 percent interaction rate on Republican pages.

The topic of children being separated from their parents who were trying to illegally cross the U.S. border was one of the main news topics of discussion in June. Department of Homeland Security officials reported that in April and May of this year, about 2,000 children were taken away from their parents while adults were being processed by the justice system. This issue was hotly discussed by politicians both on social media and at rallies.

In July, there was a 0.61 percent interaction rate on Democratic congressional Facebook pages, while there was a 0.69 percent interaction rate on Republican pages. In the House of Representatives, Democratic pages had a 0.61 percent interaction rate compared to 0.59 percent on Republican pages. In the Senate, there was a 0.60 percent interaction rate on Democratic pages and a 0.79 percent interaction rate on Republican pages.

One of the biggest stories of July was President Donald Trump’s nomination of then-Circuit Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy on the U.S. Supreme Court. At the time, Kavanaugh was already facing opposition by Democratic leaders, though his confirmation fight would prove to be one of the toughest.


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In August, Democratic pages had a 0.48 percent interaction rate, while there was a 0.55 percent interaction rate on Republican pages. In the House of Representatives, there was a 0.39 percent interaction rate on Democratic pages and a 0.45 percent interaction rate on Republican pages. In the Senate, Democratic pages had a 0.56 percent interaction rate compared to a 0.64 percent interaction rate on Republican pages.

FBI agent Peter Strzok was fired on Aug. 13 after the revelation of his previous anti-Trump text messages. Strzok had been one of the agents spearheading the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election but had been removed from the investigation after numerous anti-Trump text messages exchanged with then-FBI lawyer Lisa Page surfaced.

In September, there was a 0.63 percent interaction rate on Democratic congressional Facebook pages, while there was a 0.67 percent interaction rate on Republican congressional pages. In the House of Representatives, Democratic pages had a 0.44 percent interaction rate compared to 0.41 percent on Republican pages. In the Senate, there was a 0.82 percent interaction rate on Democratic pages and a 0.93 percent interaction rate on Republican pages.

The main topic of discussion in September was Kavanaugh. At the beginning of the month, Kavanaugh sat through days of a confirmation hearings, answering endless questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee as protesters interrupted the hearing. Then, a sexual assault allegation against the Supreme Court nominee sparked a controversial discussion by the media and lawmakers.

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During this June-September time range, the interaction rate on Republican congressional Facebook pages decreased by 0.01 percent and the interaction rate on Democratic congressional Facebook pages decreased by 0.11 percent.

When the data is separated by chambers of Congress, the Democratic representatives experienced a greater decrease in interaction rate than their Republican counterparts during this four-month period.

In the House of Representatives, there was a 0.21 percent decrease in interaction rate on Democratic pages and a 0.12 percent decrease in interaction rate on Republican pages. In the Senate, there was no change in interaction rate on Democratic pages and a 0.10 percent increase in interaction rate on Republican pages.

Interaction rates are the average interactions (likes, shares or comments on a post) divided by the number of page followers for each page. Regardless of a change in the number of posts or followers, the interaction rate on a given Facebook page should remain similar from month to month, all else being equal.

Why This Matters

In January, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the social media platform would be rolling out a new algorithm. This algorithm would prioritize “friends, family and groups” in users’ News Feeds and show fewer public content like posts from “businesses, brands, and media.” The decrease in interaction rates on these representatives’ pages indicates that some pages have indeed been targeted, intentionally or unintentionally, since this change was made.

This change continues to have serious implications for the near future.

According to a July analysis by The Western Journal, Facebook pages associated with members of Congress from both major parties saw a significant decrease in interactions with readers in the months immediately following that algorithm change. However, the Facebook pages of Republican members of the House and Senate were affected more than those of their Democrat counterparts.

This means that Americans who stay informed about their elected representatives by following the Facebook pages of their state’s senators and representatives are less likely to see posts from these pages — especially if they are Republicans or conservatives.

Additionally, if representatives are hindered in their ability to deliver their stance on issues to the people they represent, the public is less likely to know where they stand on the issues — leading to an uninformed public that could swing elections.

It could be argued that the closing of the gap in interaction rates between Republican and Democratic politicians follows a closing of the “enthusiasm gap” between Republican and Democratic voters, particularly in the wake of the Kavanaugh hearings.

Where the Data Comes From

To conduct this evaluation, The Western Journal pulled Facebook data from CrowdTangle for all current Congress members with a Facebook page using CrowdTangle’s lists: U.S. House Democrats Official, U.S. Senate Democrats, U.S. House GOP Official and U.S. Senate GOP. (It does not include Sens. Bernie Sanders and Angus King who are on the U.S. Senate Independents list.) The data was then aggregated for Facebook pages from June through September 2018.

The Western Journal also used CrowdTangle’s calculation of each chamber of Congress’ monthly interaction rate. Those monthly interaction rates were then combined by taking the average of the two to find the interaction rate for Republican and Democratic congressional Facebook pages.

This data measures users’ interactions with the posts and not the reach of the post. Reach data is available only to individual publishers and is not made public by Facebook. However, the interactions are good general indicators of reach because when more users see a given post, interactions with that post should rise accordingly.

The fact that Facebook only reveals a limited amount of data regarding public pages — and essentially no data at all about the algorithm used to show posts on users’ News Feeds — in turn limits the ability of users, journalists and others to analyze cause and effect.

Facebook’s significant lack of data transparency makes it impossible for The Western Journal, government regulators or anyone else to defend Facebook’s internal processes as unbiased, make a credible accusation of intentional bias, or make any sort of defensible statement in between.

Therefore, The Western Journal has analyzed the data available to us in this analysis as well as others.

For the rest of our Congressional Facebook Analyses, follow this link.

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Erin Coates was an editor for The Western Journal for over two years before becoming a news writer. A University of Oregon graduate, Erin has conducted research in data journalism and contributed to various publications as a writer and editor.
Erin Coates was an editor for The Western Journal for over two years before becoming a news writer. She grew up in San Diego, California, proceeding to attend the University of Oregon and graduate with honors holding a degree in journalism. During her time in Oregon, Erin was an associate editor for Ethos Magazine and a freelance writer for Eugene Magazine. She has conducted research in data journalism, which has been published in the book “Data Journalism: Past, Present and Future.” Erin is an avid runner with a heart for encouraging young girls and has served as a coach for the organization Girls on the Run. As a writer and editor, Erin strives to promote social dialogue and tell the story of those around her.
Birthplace
Tucson, Arizona
Nationality
American
Honors/Awards
Graduated with Honors
Education
Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, University of Oregon
Books Written
Contributor for Data Journalism: Past, Present and Future
Location
Prescott, Arizona
Languages Spoken
English, French
Topics of Expertise
Politics, Health, Entertainment, Faith




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