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The real political bias on social networks

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Today Senate Republicans held a hearing titled "Stifling Free Speech: Technological Censorship and th
 
April 10 · Issue #313 · View online
The Interface
Today Senate Republicans held a hearing titled “Stifling Free Speech: Technological Censorship and the Public Discourse.” It was the second such hearing to be held in Congress in the past six months — in September, House Republicans put on a similar show, lambasting Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.
To the extent that these hearings have any basis in actual events, they tend to involve isolated cases in which some conservative-leaning person or organization was temporarily suspended from a service, or did not appear in search results, or was not being promoted sufficiently by a site’s recommendation algorithms. And while unintentional bias often is baked into algorithms, as this recent study of Facebook’s ad products suggests, no research has ever suggested that Republicans have been disadvantaged on social media platforms.
In fact, as I often like to point out, Fox News typically gets more engagement on Facebook than any other publisher. Still, that’s just one data point. How do partisan pages fare across the social network?
A study today published by Media Matters for America attempts to answer that question. Over 37 weeks, the authors measured engagement — likes, comments, and shares — across left- and right-leaning pages. What did they find?
Right-leaning pages earned on average about 372,000 weekly interactions and left-leaning pages earned on average about 369,000 weekly interactions.
Partisan pages also outperformed pages that are not politically aligned, earning a piddling 283,000 weekly interactions. (The study isn’t about how hard it is to reach an audience on Facebook these days, though it certainly makes the case: a post from a partisan page reached just 0.17 percent of its followers, and a post from a non-partisan page reached 0.07 percent. Thank you, Facebook Journalism Project!)
The results of the study are consistent with the results of a similar exercise undertaken by Media Matters last year. That study, which measured engagement on the same set of pages over the previous six months, found that right-leaning pages had a nearly identical average rate of interactions with left-leaning pages. It also found that the right-leaning pages it studied earned 51 percent more total interactions than left-leaning pages.
The truth is that social networks have been a boon to partisans of every stripe — conservatives especially. A conservative social media star became the president of the United States — and a liberal social media star seems well on her way to higher office, despite being in her first term in Congress. The real bias of social networks, as Mark Zuckerberg has acknowledged, is toward the extremes. And any moves Facebook has taken so far to reduce that polarization seem to have had little effect.
There are many legitimate questions about the effects of big social networks on our democracy. Whether they have been engineered to silence conservative voices is simply not one of them.

Democracy
Facebook and the 2020 Election: The Tech Giant Backs Away From Democratic Debates
Twitter removes Trump’s video featuring music from The Dark Knight for copyright infringement
Apple Music in China removes Jacky Cheung song with reference to Tiananmen massacre
Elsewhere
Facebook Showed Me My Data Is Everywhere And I Have Absolutely No Control Over It
eMarketer Slashes Snapchat Growth Forecast for 2019
Google Founders Have Skipped All Of The Company's 2019 Town Hall Meetings
The anti-Facebook: Inside Pinterest's slow and quiet rise
Hate Your Internet Provider? Look to Space
Social media usage in U.S. remains unchanged despite a year of turmoil
Launches
Facebook will punish groups for repeatedly spreading fake news
Facebook Is Changing News Feed (Again) to Stop Fake News
The AP isn’t abandoning its fact-checking partnership with Facebook. It’s expanding it.
Takes
Listen up bitches, it’s time to learn incorrect things about someone you’ve never heard of
I wanted to help Google make AI more responsible. Instead I was treated with hostility.
And finally ...
Black hole gets welcomed to the Earth with memes
Talk to me
Send me tips, comments, questions, and [censored]. casey@theverge.com.
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