By George Upper
Facebook’s much-publicized demotion of publishers’ content in users’ news feeds has negatively impacted conservative-leaning publishers significantly more than liberal-leaning outlets, an analysis by The Western Journal has revealed.
Liberal publishers have gained about 2 percent more web traffic from Facebook than they were getting prior to the algorithm changes implemented in early February.
On the other hand, conservative publishers have lost an average of nearly 14 percent of their traffic from Facebook.
This algorithm change, intentional or not, has in effect censored conservative viewpoints on the largest social media platform in the world. This change has ramifications that, in the short-term, are causing conservative publishers to downsize or fold up completely, and in the long-term could swing elections in the United States and around the world toward liberal politicians and policies.
Example: New York Post vs. New York Daily News
Case in point: Two rival publishers in New York City, the New York Post and the New York Daily News, are similar in many ways, except for their editorial slants. The Post is well-known as a right-leaning outlet, whereas the Daily News has an established left-leaning slant. For example, the Daily News recently ran a headline after the Parkland shooting that read, “Brave Florida survivors plan day of action for gun sanity and to call out ‘blood on hands’ of NRA puppets.”
Headlines like that garnered the Daily News a 24.18 percent increase in traffic from Facebook, while the right-leaning Post’s traffic dropped 11.44 percent in the same time period.
These results are similar to the “surprisingly profound and partisan” findings of analysis conducted by The Outline. However, whereas The Outline analyzed user engagement on Facebook itself, The Western Journal looked at actual traffic driven to news websites by Facebook, which directly impacts revenue for these sites.
Why did Facebook make this change?
Campbell Brown, a former anchor on NBC and CNN who now leads Facebook’s news partnerships team, told attendees at a recent technology and publishing conference that Facebook would be censoring news publishers based on its own internal biases:
“This is not us stepping back from news. This is us changing our relationship with publishers and emphasizing something that Facebook has never done before: It’s having a point of view, and it’s leaning into quality news. … We are, for the first time in the history of Facebook, taking a step to try to to define what ‘quality news’ looks like and give that a boost.” (Emphasis added.)
Based on The Western Journal’s analysis — and an overwhelming amount of insider reports from new media publishers — it is clear that Facebook’s definition of “quality news” is news with a liberal slant.
Where does this data come from?
To conduct this evaluation, The Western Journal selected 50 publishers known to receive a significant amount of online traffic from Facebook. These publishers include traditional print or television outlets such as The Washington Post, CNN and Fox News, as well as new media outlets like Salon, Vox and The Daily Caller. (The full list of publishers appears in the chart below.
The Western Journal then assigned each publisher a number between 0 and 100 based on Media Bias / Fact Check News, a third party website that analyzes publishers for political bias and places them on a continuum between “extreme left” and “extreme right.”
Next, The Western Journal checked the monthly Facebook traffic for each of these sources using data from global digital market intelligence company SimilarWeb and compared January traffic to traffic from Feb. 4 through Mar. 3, adjusted for the slightly shorter time period. According to available internal data, Facebook began rolling out this major algorithm change on Feb. 6.
The results: Conservative publishers negatively impacted
The 25 on the liberal side of the scale averaged a 1.86 percent boost in traffic from Facebook, whereas the 25 news organizations on the conservative side averaged a 13.71 percent decrease in traffic.
Based on this analysis, it is clear that liberal news sites are being promoted in Facebook users’ news feeds more often than conservative sites.
After removing the 15 publishers with the least traffic from Facebook, the trend becomes even more clear.
Of the remaining 35 news sources, the 12 most liberal sites averaged a boost of 0.21 percent — in other words, they don’t appear to have been affected in any meaningful way.
The 11 sites in the middle — which ranged from “left-center” to “least biased” on the MBFC News scale — saw a significant increase in Facebook traffic of 12.81 percent.
The 12 most conservatives sites lost an average of 27.06 percent of their traffic from Facebook
Of the 12 most liberal sites, six saw double-digit decreases in traffic, while four saw double-digit increases and two — The Washington Post and HuffPo — saw single-digit increases. CNN’s traffic increased 43.78 percent.
Of the 11 sites in the middle of the scale, nine saw traffic increase. Only two — CBS News and The Atlantic — saw a traffic decrease.
Among those 11, only two — USA Today and The Economist — can truly be considered centrist according to the MSFC News scale. Their traffic increased by 23.16 percent and 1.12 percent, respectively.
Of the 12 most conservative sites, only two benefited from increased Facebook traffic — the Daily Mail with 3.51 percent and Fox News with 31.67 percent.
The other 10 saw decreases ranging from 3.13 percent at Breitbart to a whopping 76.49 percent at Independent Journal Review. On Feb. 15, IJR announced significant layoffs to an “already skeletal staff,” The Daily Caller reported. Rare, a conservative leaning news media publication owned by Cox Media Group, experienced a 68.7 percent drop in traffic after the algorithm change. Rare will shut down entirely at the end of the month, Axios reported.
The average impact per news site with the most desktop sessions from Facebook also varied significantly depending on the political leaning of the site.
Fox News was the only conservative site that saw significant growth in this calculation. If Fox were removed from the group of 12 conservative sites shown above, the average drop would grow to 32.4 percent among the remaining 11.
It is, of course, possible that the benefit to liberals sites and the harm to conservatives is unintentional, a side effect of Facebook’s well-known “move fast, break things” attitude. Given Facebook’s history of manually suppressing conservative news, and given recent Facebook comments acknowledging that Facebook will have a point of view, it would not be surprising if this move was an intentional break with the formerly stated goal to be a neutral platform.
“How this manifests in the coming months is not totally clear to us right now,” Campbell admitted at the Recode event. “These are conversations we’ve just started having with a lot of publishers. But in terms of us taking a big step in that direction, I think, yes, I think this is, I think this is us having a very clear point of view.”
Facebook has not responded to a request for comment submitted by The Western Journal last week.
For the full data set, visit this public Google Sheet.
(Correction: An earlier version of this article erroneously referred to The Outline as The Outlet. I have corrected the error, which was completely my fault, and apologize for the oversight. – G.)
George Upper is the executive editor of The Western Journal.