Here’s How Members of Congress Did on Facebook in May
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 challenges for the social media platform. Lawmakers and politicians have repeatedly questioned the credibility of Facebook’s claims of being an unbiased social media platform.
In a November 2018 article for The Epoch Times, Robert Epstein outlined how Big Tech companies like Facebook can shift votes in elections.
“Facebook can affect election outcomes in at least five different ways: by biasing its trending box, biasing its center newsfeed, encouraging people to look for election-related material in its search bar, sending out targeted register-to-vote reminders, and sending out targeted go-out-and-vote reminders.”
Big Tech companies deny that their algorithms can be tweaked to meddle in elections, but the effects of the algorithm changes can be seen in the numbers.
According to The Western Journal’s 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 May shows that there still seems to be a disparity in interaction rate on Republican and Democratic congressional Facebook pages, but the interaction rate follows the same general trend throughout the month.
The Western Journal recently analyzed the interaction rates on congressional Facebook pages from May 2019.
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.
For comparison, previous analysis had shown pages operated by congressional Democrats had an average interaction rate of 0.61 percent for the month of April, whereas pages owned by their Republican counterparts saw an average interaction rate of 0.49 percent.
Speaking generally, interaction rates for both Democrat and Republican congressional pages were fairly even for most of May but started to trend upward toward the end of the month.
In the first full week of May (May 5 – May 11), Democratic pages had a 0.55 percent interaction rate, while Republican pages had a 0.48 percent interaction rate.
During the week of May 12 – May 18, there was a 0.54 percent interaction rate on Democratic pages and a 0.41 percent interaction rate on Republican pages.
From May 19 – May 25, Democratic pages had a 0.63 percent interaction rate compared to a 0.44 percent interaction rate on Republican pages.
In the last week of May (May 26 – May 31), Democratic pages had a 0.63 percent interaction rate, while there was a 0.50 percent interaction rate on Republican pages. It is important to note, this last week only counts for six of the seven days that week.
There were two different shootings during the month of May.
On May 7, a gunman entered 18-year-old Kendrick Castillo’s classroom at STEM School Highlands Ranch in Douglas County, Colorado. In an act of selfless heroism, Castillo lunged at the gunman and was shot, giving his classmates enough time to escape.
Student Brendan Bialy also helped save the lives of his fellow students by tackling the shooter. Because of these students efforts, there was only one fatality from the shooting.
Gov. Ralph Northam announced a few days after the shooting that he was going to recall Virginia lawmakers to reconsider gun control measures in their state.
Four states — Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri — passed laws that banned abortions past a certain point in pregnancy. These bills have received pushback from abortion advocates and lawmakers across the country.
Mueller also said he would not testify before Congress in any further investigations the Democrat-controlled House opens.
In the House of Representatives, there was a 0.70 percent interaction rate on Democratic pages and a 0.83 percent interaction rate on Republican pages during the week of May 5 – May 11.
Interaction rates during the week of May 12 – May 18 were at 0.63 percent for Democratic pages and 0.71 percent for Republican pages.
During the week of May 19 – May 25, there was a 0.81 percent interaction rate on Democratic pages and 0.73 percent on Republican pages.
In the last few days of May (May 26 – May 31), Democratic pages had a 0.76 percent interaction rate compared to a 0.90 percent interaction rate on Republican pages.
In the Senate, there was a 0.40 percent interaction rate on Democratic pages and a 0.12 percent interaction rate on Republican pages during the week of May 5 – May 11.
Interaction rates during the week of May 12 – May 18 were at 0.45 percent for Democratic pages and 0.11 percent for Republican pages.
During the week of May 19 – May 25, there was a 0.44 percent interaction rate on Democratic pages and a 0.14 percent interaction rate on Republican pages.
In the last few days of May (May 26 – May 31), Democratic pages had a 0.50 percent interaction rate compared to a 0.09 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 2018 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.
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, which 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.
Benjamin Murray contributed to data compilation and charts for this story.
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