My friends on the right have made a mantra of labeling bias as “fake news.” So, it is a bit ironic that some are attacking Facebook’s effort to reduce the influence of untrustworthy content.
Facebook has made substantial changes to the way posts appear in users’ timelines, as well as changes to data sharing and the selection of universes for advertising. These changes have met blowback from some on the right, including Tucker Carlson, who did a segment on his Fox News show claiming the new Facebook algorithm disadvantages conservative news sites.
As one who uses data to advise conservative Republican candidates on their digital strategy, I would be the first to sound the alarm if I believed this were true.
However, a review of data since Facebook implemented changes doesn’t demonstrate a bias against conservatives, but rather a drop in traffic for untrustworthy, “click bait” websites and scams that have the potential to taint GOP victories and embarrass our supporters.
Among news sites, Tucker Carlson’s employer, Fox News, is one of the leaders in Facebook interactions, and in fact has experienced an increase in interactions since Facebook implemented these changes. If Facebook were attacking conservative news, it’s reasonable to conclude they would start with Fox. CrowdTangle data prove otherwise. At the same time as Fox improved provocative liberal site Daily Kos saw their engagement numbers drop.
A separate study from Newswhip showed the top reporters and news outlets on Facebook in February – the first month after the algorithm changes. Among the top 15 reporters, five were from Ben Shapiro’s popular conservative news site Daily Wire.
Furthermore, two of my clients, GOP Senator Mike Lee and House Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows are among the leaders in Facebook interaction rates since these edits.
The changes made by Facebook should be welcomed by conservatives. They are aimed at reorienting news feeds to local news (e.g., prioritizing the Fort Worth Star Telegram over the New York Times) and posts from friends and trusted content. Fake news click bait is getting a lower profile. This is good, whether coming from conservative sites or liberal ones.
As the head of the data operation of the Ted Cruz for President Campaign, I immersed myself in data collection, and using digital tools to reach targets identified as persuadable. Facebook is a tremendous platform for reaching voters.
Many of us on the right developed sophisticated, winning campaigns based on Facebook’s old rules of engagement. We became adept at driving views based on the old algorithm, making sure our messages reached large numbers of people.
But a major social media platform like Facebook is always evolving. After facing complaints of foreign-sponsored “fake news” ads proliferating via their platform, Facebook has rightfully taken measures to ensure readers are exposed to trustworthy news content.
This simply means that political operatives and right-leaning news organizations will have to evolve too, developing content that Facebook consumers desire and trust.
Facebook has a built-in incentive for always ensuring engaging content reaches its users. It also has a responsibility to ensure its platform is not gamed by sophisticated efforts to make fake content go viral.
I would submit their news feed changes do not target an ideology, but instead click bait content deemed untrustworthy by users.
Content with which users have in-depth engagement will continue to proliferate on news feeds, regardless of the ideology of the user or the content provider.
The solution is not to complain about changes aimed at promoting trustworthy content over its untrustworthy competition, but to build campaigns that leverage this new reality.
Campaigns will adapt. News organizations will adapt. And users will continue to get the content they desire. This is good for our democracy, and right-leaning consumers and providers.
Chris Wilson is CEO of WPA Intelligence, a data science and polling firm, and served as Director of Research, Analytics and Digital Strategy for the Ted Cruz for President campaign.