Engagement on Facebook pages associated with members of both major political parties has continued to fluctuate in the year 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.
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.
Unsurprisingly, analysis of data from March 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 March 2019.
For comparison, previous analysis had shown pages operated by congressional Democrats had an average interaction rate of 0.69 percent for the month of February, whereas pages owned by their Republican counterparts saw an average interaction rate of 0.90 percent.
Speaking generally, interaction rates for Democrat-run pages trended upward for the month of March (finishing 31 percentage points above their interaction rate at the beginning of the month), while rates for Republican pages started and ended lower. It is important to note that congressional Democrats published almost 200 posts more than their Republican counterparts.
In the first full week of March (March 3 – March 9), Democratic pages had a 0.58 percent interaction rate, while Republican pages had a 0.59 percent interaction rate.
During the week of March 10 – March 16, there was a 0.92 percent interaction rate on Democratic pages and a 0.55 percent interaction rate on Republican pages.
From March 17 – March 23, Democratic pages had a 0.79 percent interaction rate compared to a 0.45 percent interaction rate on Republican pages.
In the last full week of March (March 24 – March 30), Democratic pages had a 0.89 percent interaction rate, while there was a 0.60 percent interaction rate on Republican pages.
It was a busy news cycle in March in both the entertainment and political spheres.
“Desperate Housewives” actress Felicity Huffman and former “Full House” star Lori Loughlin were charged along with at least 40 other people on March 12 in a scheme in which parents got their children into elite college by bribing coaches and testing center staff, prosecutors said.
Republican Sen. John Kennedy from Louisiana is one of the many politicians who responded to the scandal.
This college admissions scandal is some of the most odious, vile, repugnant, reprehensible conduct I’ve seen in a long time. I don’t care how many movies you’ve made. I don’t care how much money you’ve made. Right is still right, & wrong is still wrong. pic.twitter.com/mMNIlkeS3J
— John Kennedy (@SenJohnKennedy) March 13, 2019
At least 49 people were killed on March 15 when a gunman attacked two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Politicians and talking heads alike expressed their sympathy to the victims.
President Donald Trump tweeted his “warmest sympathy” to New Zealand after the senseless attack.
My warmest sympathy and best wishes goes out to the people of New Zealand after the horrible massacre in the Mosques. 49 innocent people have so senselessly died, with so many more seriously injured. The U.S. stands by New Zealand for anything we can do. God bless all!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 15, 2019
“Everyone should have the right to worship without fear, and an attack on a place of worship is terrorism perpetrated against all of us,” Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeted.
Charleston, Pittsburgh, and now Christchurch. Everyone should have the right to worship without fear, and an attack on a place of worship is terrorism perpetrated against all of us. My heart goes out to the people of New Zealand today.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) March 15, 2019
In February, Superintendent Eddie Johnson of the Chicago Police Department told reporters that Jussie Smollett staged a racist and anti-gay attack against himself in the early morning hours of Jan. 29 in downtown Chicago.
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s office charged the actor with disorderly conduct for filing a false police report. The class 4 felony carried a potential jail time of one to three years.
Lawyers for Smollett released a statement on March 23 saying all 16 felony counts related to making a false report had been dropped by the prosecutor’s office, which is led by State Attorney Kimberly Foxx.
The Green New Deal, proposed by Rep. Alexandria Occasio-Cortez, was put to a vote on March 26. Fifty-seven senators voted “nay” and 43 voted “present.”
No one voted to pass the proposal.
The largest story to come out of March was the conclusion of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
On March 22, Mueller submitted his final report to be reviewed by Attorney General William Barr. A few days later, on March 24, Barr submitted his summary to Congress, highlighting the findings of the investigation.
“The Special Counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 US Presidential Election,” Barr said in his letter.
Quoting from Mueller’s report, he added, “(T)he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
Barr’s letter also addressed the issue of whether Trump obstructed justice.
Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein decided the evidence gathered during the mammoth probe was “not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense,” Barr wrote.
In the House of Representatives, there was a 0.67 percent interaction rate on Democratic pages and a 0.99 percent interaction rate on Republican pages during the week of March 3 – March 9.
During the week of March 10 – March 16, Democratic pages had a 1.33 percent interaction rate compared to a 0.72 percent interaction rate on Republican pages.
There was a 1.11 percent interaction rate on Democratic pages and a 0.65 percent interaction rate on Republican pages from March 17 – March 23.
During the week of March 24 – March 30, Democratic pages had a 1.21 percent interaction rate compared to a 0.96 percent interaction rate on Republican pages.
In the Senate, there was a 0.48 percent interaction rate on Democratic pages and a 0.19 percent interaction rate on Republican pages during the week of March 3 – March 9.
Interaction rates during the week of March 10 – March 16 were at 0.51 percent for Democratic pages and 0.37 percent for Republican pages.
During the week of March 17 – March 23, there was a 0.47 percent interaction rate on Democratic pages and a 0.25 percent interaction rate on Republican pages.
In the last full week of March (March 24 – March 30), Democratic pages had a 0.57 percent interaction rate compared to a 0.23 percent interaction rate on Republican pages.
Why This Matters
In January 2018, 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, 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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