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By the Numbers: Here's How Members of Congress Did on Facebook in December

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Engagement on Facebook pages associated with members of both major political parties has continued to fluctuate in the months following the social media giant’s major algorithm changes in 2018, according to continued 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 2018.

Analysis of data from December indicated that there still seems to be a disparity in interaction rate on Republican and Democratic congressional Facebook pages.

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The Numbers

The Western Journal recently analyzed the interaction rates on congressional Facebook pages from December 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.


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During the first week of December (Dec. 2 – Dec. 8), Democratic pages had a 0.56 percent interaction rate, while Republican pages saw a 0.37 percent interaction rate. In the second week of December (Dec. 9 – Dec. 15), there was a 0.67 percent interaction rate on Democratic pages and a 0.82 percent interaction rate on Republican pages. During the week of Dec. 16 – Dec. 22, Democratic pages had a 0.82 percent interaction rate compared to a 0.65 percent interaction rate on Republican pages. During the last full week of December (Dec. 23 – Dec. 29), Democratic pages had a 1.38 percent interaction rate, while there was a 0.72 percent interaction rate on Republican pages.

Interaction rates measure 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.

A number of newsworthy events during the month may have contributed to the fluctuations in December engagement.

At the beginning of December, the nation was mourning the death of former President H.W. Bush. President Donald Trump and former Presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter all attended the funeral on Dec. 5, 2018.

On Dec. 6, a 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who tried to enter the U.S. with her father earlier this month died from sepsis shock, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

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“After completing a days-long, dangerous journey through remote and barren terrain, the child, who according to the father had not been able to consume water or food for days, began vomiting, went into sepsis shock and after receiving emergency treatment from U.S. Border Patrol Emergency Response Technicians (EMTs), air paramedics and emergency room personnel, died,” the department said.



Trump met with then-Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Dec. 11 to discuss funding for a border wall.

The president made it clear he wants $5 billion for border wall construction, while Schumer countered with the $1.6 billion the Senate had approved for border security. Shortly after taking office, Trump sought $25 billion, but he told reporters later that the cost of building a wall in strategic places would be less than he expected.

“If we don’t get what we want, one way or the other, whether it’s through you, through military, through anything you want to call, I will shut down the government,” Trump said. “I will take the mantle of shutting down the government. I’m going to shut it down for border security.”

On Dec. 12, Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to nine federal charges. Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying to Congress about his dealings with a proposed plan for a Trump Tower project in Moscow. In August, he pleaded guilty to eight other charges, including tax evasion and breaking campaign finance laws in arranging payments in the waning days of the 2016 election to porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, both of whom have claimed to have had affairs with Trump prior to his entry into politics.

Cohen told the judge that he took “full responsibility for each act that I pled guilty to: The personal ones to me and those involving the President of the United States of America.”

A partial government shutdown went into effect on Dec. 22. The major issue separating the two sides is Trump’s demand for a border. The shutdown entered its 28th day on Jan. 18.

“I can’t tell you when the government is going to be open,” Trump said, according to White House media pool reports. “I can tell you it’s not going to be open until we have a wall, a fence — whatever they’d like to call it.”

On Dec. 23, in one of his final acts in office, Defense Secretary James Mattis signed the order to pull U.S. troops out of Syria. Trump’s decision to pull all 2,600 U.S. troops from Syria was the catalyst for Mattis to tender his resignation. The order set in motion the full timetable describing which units leave when, but administration officials later said that events on the ground could delay the full withdrawal.

One of the last big stories of the year was a tragic one. Newman police Cpl. Ronil Singh, 33, died in the line of duty after being shot just before 1 a.m. during a traffic stop on Dec. 26, ABC News reported. Following a 55-hour manhunt, Gustavo Perez Arriaga and seven others have been arrested in connection with the shooting death.

Arriaga, 32, the suspected shooter, was arrested about 200 miles from where the deadly traffic stop took place. Singh pulled Arriaga over early on Wednesday morning for a possible DUI before shots were fired and Singh was killed minutes later around 1 a.m.

The Sacramento Bee reported that Arriaga, an illegal immigrant, then fled the scene and was reportedly on his way back to Mexico when he was arrested, according to Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson. Arriaga entered the United States illegally in Arizona and, though his exact time of entry is not known, he has been in the United States for several years, Fox News reported.


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In the House of Representatives, there was a 0.65 percent interaction rate on Democratic pages and a 0.53 percent interaction rate on Republican pages during the week of Dec. 2 – Dec. 8. During the week of Dec. 9 – Dec. 15, Democratic pages had a 0.80 percent interaction rate compared to a 0.76 percent interaction rate on Republican pages. There was a 0.95 percent interaction rate on Democratic pages and 1.07 percent interaction rate on Republican pages during the week of Dec. 16 – Dec. 22. There was a 1.80 percent interaction rate on Democratic pages and a 1.15 percent interaction rate on Republican pages from Dec. 23 – Dec. 29.


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In the Senate, there was a 0.47 percent interaction rate on Democratic pages and a 0.21 percent interaction rate on Republican pages during the week of Dec. 2- Dec. 8. Interaction rates during the week of Dec. 9 – Dec. 15 were at 0.53 percent for Democratic pages and 0.15 percent interaction rate on Republican pages. There was a 0.69 percent interaction rate on Democratic pages and a 0.22 percent interaction rate on Republican pages during the week of Dec. 16 – Dec. 22. In the last full week of December (Dec. 23-29), Democratic pages had a 0.96 percent interaction rate compared to a 0.28 percent interaction rate on Republican pages.

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 members of Congress 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 December 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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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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