Representatives with Largest Facebook Pages Hit Hard After Facebook Algorithm Change

Combined Shape

Previous reports from The Western Journal addressed the dramatic reduction of Congress members’ ability to communicate with their constituents through Facebook following the platform’s algorithm change in January, as well as the possible negative effect the change had on conservative-leaning publishers.

The latest analysis of the top 10 largest representative government-linked Facebook pages — based on the pages “likes” — shows that both Democrat and Republican representatives saw a significant decrease in interaction rates with their followers, but Republicans saw a greater decrease.

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.

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 could have serious implications in the near future.

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According to a July analysis by The Western Journal, government-linked Facebook pages associated with members of Congress from both major parties saw a significant decrease in interactions with readers. 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.

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.

The Western Journal downloaded months of pre- and post-algorithm change data through CrowdTangle, a social monitoring platform owned by Facebook, for congressional Facebook pages from August 2017 through June 2018. The charts and data below compare data from the five months prior to January to the five months after January. (Data from January 2018 was omitted because the algorithm change was made partway through the month.)

The top 10 Facebook pages of Republican representatives saw a 38.03 percent decrease on their pages, while the top 10 Facebook pages of Democrat representatives saw a 36.94 percent decrease on their pages.

Top 10 Facebook Pages of Republican Representatives

The change in interaction rate on the top 10 Facebook pages of Republican representatives.

Unlike the top 10 Republican senators’ Facebook pages, none of the top 10 Facebook pages of Republican representatives saw an increase in interaction rate on their pages.

There was a 35.89 percent decrease in interaction rate on House Speaker Paul Ryan’s Facebook page. Before the latest discussions about perceived Facebook bias, Ryan said that there is bias in the media in an interview with Fox News in 2012, according to The Washington Post.

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“It kind of goes without saying that there’s definitely a media bias,” he said. “I’m a conservative person; I’m used to media bias.”

The interaction rate on California Rep. Darrell Issa’s Facebook page decreased by 11.54 percent. During the House Judiciary Committee’s hearing on “Filtering Practices of Social Media Platforms,” Issa said that conservative social media personalities Diamond and Silk had “been poorly treated” by Facebook, USA Today reported. He added that “free speech was limited in a modern age in which Facebook is a huge part of free speech.”

Although some Republican representatives increased the number of posts on their pages, they still experienced a decrease in interaction rate on their posts. There was a 44.98 percent decrease on Michigan Rep. Justin Amash’s Facebook page. Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky also posted more on his Facebook page after the change, but there was a 32.99 percent decrease in interaction rate on his page. The interaction rate on Texas Rep. Roger Williams’ Facebook page decreased by 71.79 percent.

The interaction rate on Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert’s Facebook page decreased by 25.91 percent. Rep. Gohmert questioned representatives from Facebook, Google and Twitter about anti-conservative bias during a House Judiciary Committee hearing in July, PJ Media reported.

He asked Monika Bickert, the head of global policy management at Facebook, if any other foreign country or agency had utilized Facebook inappropriately, but she was unable to give him a straight answer.

“You sure seemed anxious to answer the Democrats’ questions about Russia influence,” Gohmert responded. “And you don’t really know of all the people — all of the groups that inappropriately used your platform — you don’t know which were Russians and which were other foreign entities?”

The interaction rate on Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz’s Facebook page decreased by 25.84 percent. The Florida lawmaker questioned whether Facebook is a content publisher or a neutral platform, The Hill reported.

“The distinction is not merely academic, as they are governed by different laws and different rules,” he said. “If Facebook claims to be a neutral forum, it cannot continue to limit conservative content; if Facebook claims to be a publisher, it will lose its legal ‘immunity’ under Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act.”

Devin Murphy, Gaetz’s press secretary, told The Western Journal that the office has “observed the dramatic drop in post engagement.”

“The type of content we post has not changed, nor have we made any other changes that would have affected our reach this drastically,” he said. “With Facebook and other social media sites being the ‘town square’ of the 21st century, it is deeply concerning that the ‘reach’ of Members of Congress seems to have been artificially limited.

“Communicating to — and with — constituents is crucial to a representative democracy,” he added.

There was a 44.80 percent decrease in interaction rate on California Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s Facebook page. In a tweet in May, McCarthy posted a video with a caption that read, “Social media is being rigged to censor conservative voices. We will not be silenced. #StopTheBias.”

Among the other large Republican representative pages, the interaction rate on South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford’s Facebook page decreased by 55.41 percent. There was a 31.11 percent decrease in interaction rate on Tennesse Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ Facebook page.

Even though Majority Whip Steve Scalise has the 11th largest Republican representative Facebook page, his posts saw a 44.80 percent decrease in interaction rate on his page. While Zuckerberg appeared before Congress in April, Scalise asked the Facebook CEO whether or not the platform is biased against conservative news publishers.

“I do want to ask you about a study that was done dealing with the algorithm that Facebook uses to describe what is fed to people through the newsfeed, and what they found was after this new algorithm was implemented was that there was a tremendous bias against conservative news and content and a favorable bias towards liberal content,” the Louisiana Republican said.

“Was there a directive to put this bias in?” he said, before asking if Zuckerberg was aware of such a bias.

In his response, Zuckerberg claimed there is “absolutely no directive in any of the changes that we make to have a bias in anything that we do. To the contrary, our goal is to be a platform for all ideas.”

Top 10 Facebook Pages of Democrat Representative

The interaction rate on the top 10 Facebook pages of Democrat representatives.

Two of the top 10 Facebook pages of Democrat representatives saw an increase in interaction rate on their pages. The interaction rate on Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s Facebook page increased by 7.06 percent. There was an 11.78 percent increase on California Rep. Adam Schiff’s Facebook page.

Rep. Schiff warned about “the use of Facebook’s algorithms and the way it tends to potentially reinforce people’s informational bias” in September, Politico reported.

There was a 33.19 percent decrease on House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s Facebook page. Pelosi is one of 30 lawmakers who hold stock in Facebook; her husband holds at least $500,000 in Facebook stock. Though, her office remains adamant that the “investments are Mr. Pelosi’s not Leader Pelosi’s,” according to Roll Call.

The interaction rate on Illinois Rep. Luis Guitiérrez’s Facebook page decreased by 67.26 percent.

There was a 30.62 percent decrease on Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy III’s Facebook page. Roll Call reported that Kennedy has at least $80,000 invested in Facebook through various Trust Funds. His office said, “Congressman Kennedy’s stock holdings do not influence his work in Congress.”

Among the remaining five largest Democrat representatives’ Facebook pages, the interaction rate on Minnesota Rep. Mark Ellison’s Facebook page decreased by 25.20 percent. There was a 66.32 percent decrease in interaction rate on Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s Facebook page.

The interaction rate on Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings decreased by 39.63 percent. There was a 45.38 percent decrease in interaction rate on Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s Facebook page. The interaction rate on Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro decreased by 80.68 percent.

Where does this data come from?

To conduct this evaluation, The Western Journal pulled Facebook data from CrowdTangle for all current Congress members with a Facebook page. That data was aggregated for Facebook pages from August 2017 through June 2018.

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.

Despite this limited transparency, the numbers show that the ability of elected officials in the House of Representatives to communicate with their constituents through Facebook has been directly and unilaterally reduced by the algorithm change in and since January.

Additionally, it is impossible for The Western Journal, government regulators or anyone else to defend Facebook’s internal processes as unbiased or make a credible accusation of intentional bias due to Facebook’s lack of transparency.

For more details about this data set, and to view the full data available, please visit this page.

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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