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 updated 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.
Unsurprisingly, analysis of data from November indicated that the interaction rate on Republican and Democratic congressional Facebook pages seems to be influenced by people’s reactions to current events.
The Western Journal recently analyzed the interaction rates on congressional Facebook pages from November 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 interaction rates than Republicans.
During the first week of November (Oct. 28 – Nov. 3), Democratic pages had a 1.18 percent interaction rate, while Republican pages saw a 0.82 percent interaction rate. In the second week of November (Nov. 4 – Nov. 10), there was a 1.70 percent interaction rate on Democratic pages and a 0.96 percent interaction rate on Republican pages. During the week of Nov. 11 – Nov. 17, Democratic pages had a 0.72 percent interaction rate compared to a 0.69 percent interaction rate on Republican pages. From Nov. 18 – Nov. 24, there was a 0.80 percent interaction rate on Democratic pages and a 0.48 percent interaction rate on Republican pages. During the last few days in November (Nov. 25 – Nov. 30), Democratic pages had a 0.82 percent interaction rate, while there was a 0.58 percent 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.
The November news cycle started with the midterm elections on Nov. 6. Although Democrats took back the House of Representatives, Republicans gained a few key seats in the Senate to expand their majority there. Some close races lasted until the very last ballot was counted, resulting in lawsuits and recounts. It is unsurprising, because of this, that interaction rates were higher at the beginning of this month.
Florida’s gubernatorial and Senate races both went to a recount during the second week of November amid allegations that election officials had tampered with the ballots. After a machine and hand recount, Republican Gov. Rick Scott beat Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson for the Senate seat. Democrat Andrew Gillum conceded to Republican Ron DeSantis on Nov. 17, ending the high-profile and highly contentious race for the Florida governor’s office.
A day after the midterm elections, Attorney General Jeff Sessions offered his resignation at the request of President Donald Trump. Following Sessions’ resignation, Matthew Whitaker became the new acting attorney general. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, among others, said that Sessions’ firing could only be seen as a “blatant attempt” to undermine the Russia investigation.
CNN’s chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, was involved in a tense exchange with Trump on Nov. 7, which resulted in Acosta’s White House press credentials being revoked. CNN then filed a lawsuit against the president, and the White House was ordered by a federal judge to reinstate Acosta’s pass while the lawsuit continued.
Multiple wildfires also ravaged through California in November. The Camp Fire, for example, was started on Nov. 8 but continued to burn throughout most of the month. According to an NBC News article published on Nov. 14, the fire had burnt over 142,000 acres and destroyed the city of Paradise. On Nov. 10, Trump tweeted, “There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor.”
There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 10, 2018
The much-talked-about migrant caravan fleeing Honduras finally arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border and migrants were seen climbing the fence on Nov. 11. Before the caravan arrived, Trump signed a directive on Nov. 9 that asylum seekers need to make their claims at a port of entry along the border, but a federal judge ruled later in the month that the administration had to continue accepting asylum claims no matter where they were filed. The migrants also tried to force their way across the border illegally later in the month, and Trump responded by threatening to close the border.
Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen reached a tentative deal with special counsel Robert Mueller and pleaded guilty on Nov. 27 to lying to Congress in the Russian “collusion” investigation, ABC reported. This rekindled discussions about the ongoing Russia probe and Trump’s supposed involvement.
In the House of Representatives, there was a 1.82 percent interaction rate on Democratic pages and a 0.59 percent interaction rate on Republican pages during the week of Oct. 28 – Nov. 3. Interaction rates for Democratic pages almost doubled during the week of Nov. 4 – Nov. 10. The high interaction rates during the first two weeks of November could be attributed to the midterm elections. There was a 2.63 percent interaction rate on Democratic pages and a 0.57 percent interaction rate on Republican pages. During the week of Nov. 11 – Nov. 17, there was a 0.74 percent interaction rate on Democratic pages and a 0.70 percent interaction rate on Republican pages. In the last full week of November (Nov. 18-24), Democratic pages had a 0.79 percent interaction rate compared to a 0.36 percent interaction rate on Republican pages. There was a 0.93 percent interaction rate on Democratic pages and a 0.52 percent interaction rate on Republican pages from Nov. 25 – Nov. 30.
In the Senate, there was a 0.54 percent interaction rate on Democratic pages and a 0.59 percent interaction rate on Republican pages during the week of Oct. 28 – Nov. 3. Interaction rates during the week of Nov. 4 – Nov. 10 were at 0.76 percent for Democratic pages and 0.57 percent for Republican pages. There was a 0.69 percent interaction rate on Democratic pages and a 0.70 percent interaction rate on Republican pages during the week of Nov. 11 – Nov. 17. In the last full week of November (Nov. 18-24), Democratic pages had a 0.80 percent interaction rate compared to a 0.36 percent interaction rate on Republican pages. There was a 0.71 percent interaction rate on Democratic pages and a 0.39 percent interaction rate on Republican pages from Nov. 25 – Nov. 30.
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 unevenly impacted, 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.
Where the Data Comes From
To conduct this evaluation, The Western Journal pulled Facebook data from CrowdTangle for all current Congress members with an official 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. The data does not include Sens. Bernie Sanders and Angus King who are on the U.S. Senate Independents list. Sanders’ large following alone would greatly skew any data. The data was then aggregated for Facebook pages from November 2018.
The Western Journal also used CrowdTangle’s calculation of each chamber of Congress’ weekly interaction rate. Those weekly 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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