Following a change Facebook made to its News Feed algorithm in January, the ability of members of Congress to communicate with their constituents through the world’s largest social media platform has dropped dramatically, according to analysis by The Western Journal.
After Facebook’s January algorithm changes, pages associated with members of both major parties saw a significant decrease in interactions with readers, but the Facebook pages of Republican members of the House and Senate were impacted measurably more than those of their Democrat counterparts.
A follow-up analysis showed that not all congressional Facebook pages experienced a decrease in interactions on their posts. In fact, some actually saw an increase in interactions with readers.
The Western Journal looked at total interactions — reactions, comments and shares on a post — and interaction rates — average interactions 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.
Using data pulled from CrowdTangle, The Western Journal analyzed interaction rates on Facebook pages to see the 10 members of Congress who experienced the greatest increase in interaction rate on their pages and the 10 who experienced the greatest decrease in interaction rate.
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The 10 members of Congress with the greatest increase in interaction rate on their Facebook pages were all in the House of Representatives. Five of them were Republicans, and five were Democrats.
Among Republican representatives, the interaction rate on Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s Facebook page increased by 562 percent and the total interactions increased by 3.21 percent. Notably, Ros-Lehtinen posted less on her Facebook page after the algorithm change.
The interaction rate on Rep. Mark Walker’s (R-N.C.) Facebook page increased by 219 percent and the total interactions increased by 6.02 percent. The interaction rate on Ohio Rep. Steve Chabot’s Facebook page increased by 75 percent and the total interactions increase by 0.43 percent. The interaction rate on Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico Jenniffer González-Colón’s Facebook page increased by 72 percent and the total interactions increased by 2.29 percent.
The interaction rate on Texas Rep. Randy Weber’s Facebook page increased by 59 percent; however, the total interactions decreased by 0.40 percent. The average number of posts on his Facebook page significantly decreased after the algorithm change as well.
Among Democrat representatives, the interaction rate on California Rep. Tony Cárdenas’ Facebook page increased by 60 percent and the total interactions increased by 1.30 percent. The interaction rate on New York Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney’s Facebook page increased by 50 percent and the total interactions increased by 1.19 percent.
The interaction rate on Rep. Norma Torres’ (D-Calif.) Facebook page increased by 55 percent, but the total interactions decreased by 0.05 percent. The interaction rate on Mississippi Rep. Bennie G. Thompson’s Facebook page increased by 54 percent, but the total interactions decreased by 0.43 percent. The interaction rate on New Hampshire Rep. Carol Shea-Porter’s Facebook pages increased 52 percent, but the total interactions decreased 0.52 percent.
Looking at the 10 members of Congress whose Facebook pages experienced the greatest decrease in interaction rate, an equal number Democrats and Republicans were affected; however, three of the five Republicans on the list are senators.
The interaction rate on Texas Democrat Rep. Joaquin Castro and Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen’s Facebook pages, as well as Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins’ Facebook page, decreased by 81 percent.
The interaction rate on Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s Facebook page decreased by 85 percent and the total interactions decreased by 0.82 percent. The interaction rate on North Dakota Republican Sen. Joe Hoeven’s Facebook page decreased by 87 percent and the total interactions decreased by 0.69 percent.
The interaction rate on Texas Republican Rep. Brian Babin’s Facebook page decreased by 89 percent. The interaction rate on Texas Rep. Jodey Arrington’s Facebook page decreased by 92 percent.
The interaction rate on New York Democrat Rep. Hakeem Jeffries’ Facebook page decreased by 91 percent. The interaction rate on Rep. Mark Takano’s (D-Calif.) Facebook page decreased by 93 percent.
The greatest decrease in interaction rate was on Florida Democrat Rep. Frederica Wilson’s Facebook page. There was a 98 percent decrease in interaction rate on her page, though the average number of posts on Rep. Wilson’s Facebook page increased after the algorithm change.
The Western Journal reached out to the offices of a number of these members of Congress but did not receive comments in time for publication.
Where does this data come from?
To conduct this evaluation, The Western Journal pulled Facebook data from CrowdTangle, which is owned by Facebook, for all members of this current Congress with a Facebook page. That data was aggregated for Facebook pages from August 2017 through June 2018.
The analysis described herein does not include data from Facebook pages that did not post during any one of the 11 months of data pulled. Out of the 577 congressional Facebook pages available, only 81 were eliminated from the analysis because of this.
The two independent senators, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Angus King, were included with the Democrats because they caucus with the Democratic Party.
The Western Journal then took the data from CrowdTangle and calculated each Congress member’s monthly interaction rate using the total interactions on the page, total posts, and total page likes.
The total interactions are the total number of reactions, shares and comments on a Facebook post.
The interaction rate was calculated by averaging the number of interactions for all of the account’s posts in the specified time frame and then dividing that number by the number of followers of that page (averaged over the time period).
The pre-algorithm change data includes all data from August through December 2017; the post-change data includes all data from February through June 2018.
The data used for this analysis 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.
What is clear is that the ability of your elected officials in Congress to communicate with you through Facebook has been directly and unilaterally reduced by the January algorithm change, and that 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.
The Western Journal has analyzed the data available to us, and invites you to do the same. For the full data set, visit this public Google Sheet. To interact with the data set, visit this webpage.
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