Facebook’s January 12 announcement that it would begin to de-prioritize news publishers and their posts in users’ News Feeds has had a surprisingly profound and partisan impact. According to The Outline’s analysis of Facebook engagement data obtained from research tool BuzzSumo, conservative and right-wing publishers (such as Breitbart, Fox News, and Gateway Pundit) were hit the hardest in the weeks following the announcement, with Facebook engagement totals for February dropping as much as 55 percent for some, while the engagement numbers of most predominantly liberal publishers remained unaffected.
Both liberal and conservative publishers of clickbait and highly polarizing content also experienced a significant drop in engagement following Facebook’s News Feed de-prioritization announcement.
The Outline drew these conclusions after analyzing the Facebook engagement data of 20 publishers from March 5, 2017 to February 28, 2018. Research tool BuzzSumo measures Facebook engagement by adding up the total number of likes, shares, and comments received per post made by a publisher in a given month; it does not measure total reach.
The New York Times
The Washington Post
As evident by the above charts, popular conservative news publishers like Fox News experienced a serious dip in total Facebook engagement following the company’s January announcement, while popular liberal ones, such as CNN, did not. According to BuzzSumo, Through Fox News posted about 10 percent less in February than in January, the publisher’s total Facebook engagement dropped by nearly 26 percent, or roughly seven million interactions. Compare this to CNN’s total engagement numbers, which only lowered by 2 percent, and The New York Times, which increased its engagement by about 3 percent, despite the fact that its overall post count was lower. Similarly, The Washington Post experienced a 4 percent increase in engagement despite posting approximately 11 percent less.
What’s more, publishers of viral and needlessly polarizing content which are popular among the extreme-right were hit even harder in the wake of Facebook’s News Feed change.
Jim Hoft’s Gateway Pundit, a fringe far-right site which often publishes stories that are plainly false with inflammatory headlines, experienced a 55 percent drop in Facebook engagement from January to February despite the fact that the number of posts made had only decreased by approximately 20 percent. Similarly, though Steve Bannon’s Breitbart was only posting roughly 9 percent less content, Breitbart’s engagement dropped by nearly 28 percent, and interactions with the wildly popular Prager U decreased by nearly 32 percent despite the fact that the site was publishing approximately 18 percent more content than in January.
Liberal-leaning sites that either publish a significant amount of clickbait-type content or tend to use polarizing partisan language also experienced a noticeable drop in Facebook engagement.
Despite the fact that BuzzFeed published more posts in November, December, and January, the site still experienced a noticeable slope in the total engagement, which grew significantly steeper in February. Similarly, David Brock’s Shareblue experienced a 27 percent decrease in engagement from January to February despite the fact that it only published 15 percent less content.
Facebook did not respond to The Outline’s request for comment, but we’ll update this post if we hear back.