This piece was originally published in the October 22, 2021 edition of CAP Action’s weekly newsletter, What’s Trending? Subscribe to What’s Trending? here.
On Wednesday, the Verge reported that Facebook plans to change its company name to something more reflective of its ambition and focus: the metaverse.
Rishi Bharwani of Accountable Tech said of the move, “We should expect more of the same. These are deceiving, manipulative tools under the guise of fancy new technology that are designed to addict us, extract our personal data, and make Mark Zuckerberg an extra dollar.”
As we wait to learn more about what this change means, read on to learn about what happened on political Facebook last week. And in case you missed it, check out the latest edition of What’s Trending?
WHAT WE’RE HEARING ON SOCIAL
After several weeks of strong performance by progressives, conservatives — and more specifically, Candace Owens — dominated this week’s ranking of top political Facebook posts.
Although President Obama did publish a top-performing statement commemorating the life of Colin Powell, Candance Owens swept spots two through six with posts celebrating Donald Trump, discouraging caution regarding COVID-19, criticizing Pete Buttigieg for taking family leave, and more.
Today’s deep dive comes from a forthcoming memo the CAP Action analytics team has put together — an analysis of how link posts have seen a decline in engagement over recent months. As part of that analysis, we looked at four prominent sites often shared by conservative and progressive pages (The Daily Wire, Breitbart, the New York Times, and MSNBC) and charted their monthly Facebook engagements since 2016.
- The year-over-year trends are significant: First, we can see that spring and summer 2020 led to a massive spike in engagements for each site, which makes sense given the onset of a global pandemic, a presidential election kicking into gear, and the largest movement of protests in U.S. history.
- Second, the increase in engagement for the Daily Wire (and to a lesser extent, Breitbart) in 2020 was disproportionate, far outpacing the New York Times in engagement by June 2020 after years of lagging behind it. While it seems like the Daily Wire has been in headlines and What’s Trending lists forever, it’s really this increase in mid-2020 that propelled it to be one of the most dominant publishers on Facebook.
- Third, after the Biden administration took office in January 2021, we saw both the New York Times and Breitbart experience a sharp decrease in engagements, reflective of the return to normalcy and a “boring” presidency. MSNBC’s decline came much earlier, in fall 2020. But the Daily Wire’s engagements held staying power, continuing to rack up tens of millions of engagements per month well into 2021. Only in the last couple of months — with an initial drop in July and then another in September — has the Daily Wire experienced a decline toward pre-2020 levels.
We see this in the top posts of the week, too. Back in June, roughly half of the top 10 conservative posts per week on two separate occasions were Daily Wire articles shared by Ben Shapiro. Over the last two weeks, there’ve been only two, with far more of the top spots going to photo posts.
Does this mark a broader recalibration from Facebook? It’s hard to say for sure — but be sure to look out for our full memo next week, where we’ll share additional insights.
Thanks for reading,
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This newsletter is written by me, Alex Witt (@alexandriajwitt), a progressive political staffer and Dolly Parton enthusiast (she/her), and CAP Action’s fantastic team of designers, data analysts, and email strategists.