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Conservative pages outperform everything on Facebook

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Tomorrow the House Judiciary Committee will once again bring together representatives from Facebook,
 
July 16 · Issue #165 · View online
The Interface
Tomorrow the House Judiciary Committee will once again bring together representatives from Facebook, Google, and Twitter to answer questions about “content filtering.” The companies will “answer questions on their content moderation practices and how they can be better stewards of free speech in the United States and abroad,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte said in a statement.
The hearing comes about three months after a similar such hearing, which the companies rightly avoided. That hearing, which focused on the specious claims of two pro-Trump vloggers that Facebook had censored them, was a farce. But tech companies apparently believe they’ll get a fairer shake from Goodlatte — and in any case they’ll get another chance to explain their approach to content moderation.
The concern among the conservative lawmakers who keep holding such hearings is that Silicon Valley liberals are artificially limiting the reach of their posts for ideological reasons. And so it’s helpful to read a timely report today from Media Matters on that very question.
For the past six months, Media Matters studied engagement on 463 pages that regularly post American political news. Each page had more than 500,000 likes and posted at least five times a week.
Here are the key findings:
  • Partisan pages had roughly equal engagement, and they had more engagement than nonpartisan pages: Right-leaning and left-leaning Facebook pages had virtually identical average interaction rates – measurements of a page’s engagement – at .18 percent and .17 percent, respectively, and nonaligned pages had the lowest interaction rates at .08 percent.
  • Right-leaning pages in total have a bigger presence on Facebook: Right-leaning Facebook pages had a higher total number of interactions than left-leaning Facebook pages. Right-leaning pages had 23 percent more total interactions than nonaligned pages and 51 percent more total interactions than left-leaning pages. Images shared by right-leaning pages – including memes that frequently include false and bigoted messages – were by far the highest performing content on the Facebook pages examined.
The news for conservatives is uniformly good: “right-leaning pages had a higher total number of interactions on Facebook, and image-based posts from conservative pages considerably outperformed all other content from progressive and nonaligned pages.” (Emphasis mine.)
Facebook presumably has similar data at its disposal, and I’m a little surprised it didn’t make it into the company’s official testimony. But in her prepared remarks, Facebook policy chief Monika Bickert takes the hearing’s subject at face value.
“We know that there have been a number of high-profile content removal incidents affecting individuals across the political spectrum, and we are taking a variety of steps to respond to the concerns raised by this Committee and others,” Bickert plans to say. “Among other things, we have engaged an outside advisor, former Senator Jon Kyl, to advise the company on potential bias against conservative voices.”
It’s a predictable, if disappointing, capitulation to bad faith. Twitter’s Nick Pickles is slightly more forceful in his prepared remarks: “Some critics have described the sum of all of this work as a banning of conservative voices. Let me make clear to the Committee today that these claims are unfounded and false.”
Tomorrow’s hearing looks to be another high-profile waste of time. But I’ll be watching anyway, and you can find out how it all went here tomorrow.

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Talk to me
Questions? Comments? casey@theverge.com
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