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

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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 a continued analysis by The Western Journal.

The year 2018 was full of changes for the social media platform. 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. Facebook also experienced a series of data breaches that brought security and privacy to the forefront of concerns about social media.

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 February 2019 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 February 2019.

For comparison, previous analysis had shown pages operated by congressional Democrats had an average interaction rate of 1.01 percent for the month of January, whereas pages owned by their Republican counterparts saw an average interaction rate of 1.02 percent.

Speaking generally, interaction rates for all congressional pages trended downward for in the middle of February, but Republican pages seem to be trending upward at the end of the month.


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During the first full week of February (Feb. 2 – Feb. 9), Democratic pages had a 0.70 percent interaction rate, while Republican pages saw a 0.94 percent interaction rate.

In the second week of February (Feb. 10 – Feb. 16), there was a 0.80 percent interaction rate on Democratic pages and a 1.11 percent interaction rate on Republican pages.

During the week of Feb. 17 – Feb. 23, Democratic pages had a 0.62 percent interaction rate compared to a 0.61 percent interaction rate on Republican pages.

In the last full week of February (Feb. 24 – Feb. 28), there was a 0.63 percent interaction rate on Democratic pages and a 0.94 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.

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

It was a busy news cycle in February, with controversy over viral events.

President Donald Trump delivered the State of the Union address on Feb. 5. During his speech, he addressed the comments Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam made about late-term abortions.

“These are living, feeling, beautiful, babies who will never get the chance to share their love and dreams with the world. And then, we had the case of the governor of Virginia where he stated he would execute a baby after birth. To defend the dignity of every person, I am asking Congress to pass legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children who can feel pain the mother’s womb,” Trump said.

On Feb. 15, Trump declared a national emergency that would direct $8 billion to construct or repair as much as 234 miles in border barrier.

In addition to the $1.375 billion Congress authorized, the White House will seek to redirect $3.6 billion from a military construction fund, $2.5 billion from a Department of Defense drug interdiction program and $600 million from the Treasury Department from a drug forfeiture fund.

The national emergency is specifically being used to tap the $3.6 billion from the military construction fund.

Lawyers representing Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann sent letters to more than 50 people, media outlets and other organizations at the start of February as first steps in possible libel and defamation lawsuits.

joint statement from attorneys Todd McMurtry and Lin Wood explained the reason for the lawsuit.

“A mob comprised of activists, church and school officials, members of the mainstream print and broadcast media, and individuals on social media, including elected public officials and celebrities, rushed to condemn and vilify this young man by burying him in an avalanche of false accusations, false portrayals, and cyberbullying that have threatened his reputation and his physical safety,” the statement said.

“Nick and his family have experienced one of the worst sides of our present society. As their lawyers, we intend to exercise our best efforts as advocates to show Nick and his family another side of our society — that we are a society that survives and flourishes from the fact that it is based on the rule of law. A system of justice that demands that truth prevail and the wrongdoers be held accountable for the harm they have inflicted on Nick and his family.”

Ultimately, Sandmann sued The Washington Post as well as CNN for defamation.

“Empire” actor Jussie Smollett was arrested and charged with one class 4 felony count of disorderly conduct in filing a false police report on Feb. 20.

Smollett alleged in a Jan. 29 police report that he was assaulted on a Chicago street by supporters of President Donald Trump.

Democratic presidential candidates Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Book of New Jersey referred to Smollett’s alleged attack as a “modern-day lynching,” The Hill reported.

Chicago Superintendent Eddie Johnson told reporters at a news conference that “this stunt was orchestrated by Smollett because he was dissatisfied with his salary, so he concocted a story about being attacked.”


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In the House of Representatives, there was a 0.89 percent interaction rate on Democratic pages and a 0.95 percent interaction rate on Republican pages during the week of Feb. 2 – Feb. 9.

During the week of Feb. 10 – Feb. 16, Democratic pages had a 1.00 percent interaction rate compared to a 1.17 percent interaction rate on Republican pages.

There was a 0.61 percent interaction rate on Democratic pages and 0.74 percent interaction rate on Republican pages during the week of Feb. 17 – Feb. 23.

In the last few days of February (Feb. 24 – Feb. 28), Democratic pages had a 0.67 percent interaction rate compared to a 1.26 percent interaction rate on Republican pages.


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In the Senate, there was a 0.51 percent interaction rate on Democratic pages and a 0.92 percent interaction rate on Republican pages during the week of Feb. 2 – Feb 9.

During the week of Feb. 10 – Feb. 16, Democratic pages had a 0.59 percent interaction rate compared to a 1.04 percent interaction rate on Republican pages.

There was a 0.63 percent interaction rate on Democratic pages and a 0.47 percent interaction rate on Republican pages during the week of Feb. 17 – Feb. 23.

In the last few days of February (Feb. 24 – Feb. 28), Democratic pages had a 0.58 percent interaction rate compared to a 0.61 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, such as 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 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 Democratic 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 extracted 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 and U.S. Senate GOP.

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.

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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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