What’s Trending? 📈 Echo chambers

This piece was originally published in the June 25, 2021 edition of CAP Action’s weekly newsletter, What’s Trending? Subscribe to What’s Trending? here.

Hey, y’all.

I hope you’re well and enjoying the summer. At my house, that means lots of barbecues and day trips to the nearest body of water. We have a beach vacation planned for the Fourth of July, and I couldn’t be more excited.

This week, we’re looking at how people interact with different topics on Facebook and what that means for the content they’re served on the platform.

But first! Did you miss our latest edition of What’s Trending? Don’t worry — you can read it here.

WHAT’S TRENDING THIS WEEK

  • SCOTUS: Last week, the Supreme Court dismissed the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act, leaving the law intact and upholding health care for millions of Americans. On the same day, the court ruled in a major LGBTQ+ and religious freedom case that non-discrimination laws apply to taxpayer-funded child services so long as they are enforced neutrally.
  • For the People Act: On Tuesday, the Senate held a vote to move forward on the For the People Act, which would have expanded voting rights, reduced the influence of money in politics, limited partisan gerrymandering, and created new ethics rules. The bill was defeated by a Republican filibuster with a 50–50 vote — every Democratic Senator voted in favor of the voting rights bill and every Republican Senator voted in opposition.

WHAT WE’RE HEARING ON SOCIAL

This past week, top posts from conservatives included anti-LGBTQ content and anti-critical race theory content (even though what conservatives really mean by critical race theory is just … teaching history in schools.) Their top post was a personal photo from Ben and Candy Carson announcing the birth of a grandson. Notably, two of the top 10 posts promoted a Daily Wire article sharing Ron DeSantis’ remarks at a conservative event and highlighting a recent straw poll in which he placed first among conservatives, including Trump, as a 2024 presidential candidate.

On the left, a post from President Biden sharing the loss of his beloved pup, Champ, was the most interacted with. Other top posts celebrated Juneteenth, Father’s Day, and recent Supreme Court decisions. Progressives dominated the top posts this week (progress!), with the top two posts alone outperforming conservatives’ next 10. And notably, messages were a mix of both personal and political posts, a good sign for substance!

Top 20 best-performing political Facebook posts by interactions, according to data from NewsWhip.
Top 10 best-performing political Facebook posts on the left and right for the weeks of June 10 and June 17 by interactions, according to data from NewsWhip.
Top ten Facebook posts from progressive pages over the last week, according to data from NewsWhip.
Top ten Facebook posts from conservative pages over the last week, according to data from NewsWhip.

DEEP DIVE

When examining the volume of posts and news stories within the political Facebook landscape, we see that those focus primarily on COVID-19, President Biden, and the economy:

Total daily interactions (U.S. only) with Facebook posts matching topic keywords, according to data from NewsWhip.

However, when we look at performance by the number of interactions (and remember, interactions are one of the biggest drivers of performance in the Facebook algorithm), mentions of Trump, Biden, and election reform perform much higher. So while newscycle-driven posts may be created more frequently, outrage-driven ones drive higher engagement.

Total daily interactions (U.S. only) with Facebook posts matching topic keywords, according to data from NewsWhip.

Now finally, when you look at average interactions per post, you get a very different story: COVID and the economy are down at the bottom, and the three most polarizing, outrage-inducing topics — Trump, President Biden, and election reform — are performing best.

As people interact with more and more outrageous posts, they are training the algorithm to serve them more and more outrageous takes, thus creating an echo chamber.

Average daily interactions (U.S. only) with Facebook posts matching topic keywords, according to data from NewsWhip.

Thanks for reading,

Alex

P.S. Please do forward along to your friends who are interested or encourage them to sign up here.

This newsletter is written by me, Alex Witt (@alexandriajwitt), a progressive political strategist and Dolly Parton enthusiast (she/her). I’ve managed social media programs for presidential candidates, political committees, progressive advocacy organizations, and more.

Hard-hitting news + analysis paired with action on the issues that matter most. Working alongside @AmProg.