EV at a charging station with red facebook logo
Andrea Austria/Media Matters 

Research/Study Research/Study

On Facebook, content trashing electric vehicles reliably draws engagement

An analysis of the top 100 EV-related posts on US political pages found that 81% were critical of the technology

  • In a new analysis of electric vehicle-related content on Facebook, Media Matters found that negative stories made up the vast majority of content, particularly on right-leaning and politically nonaligned U.S. news and political pages, a trend which does not align with the optimistic outlook of EV adoption and technological advancements.

    Since 2021, the Biden administration has allocated billions of dollars toward meeting the ambitious goal of making half of all new cars sold electric or hybrid over the next few years. Provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the CHIPS Act have provided tax credits and other incentives to jump start electric vehicle sales and infrastructure such as charging stations, domestic battery manufacturing, critical mineral acquisition, in addition to preparing the automotive industry workforce for the transition

    In March, an Environmental Protection Agency rule setting strict limits on pollution from new gas-powered cars primed automakers for success in meeting these goals. 

    Biden’s EV push will continue to play an important role in the upcoming presidential election. Former president and current GOP candidate Donald Trump has insisted that Biden’s policies benefit China, which makes up the largest share of the global EV market. In March, while talking about the current state of the auto industry, Trump declared, “If I don’t get elected, it’s going to be a bloodbath for the whole — that’s going to be the least of it. It’s going to be a bloodbath for the country.” Economists disagree

    The comment tracks with years of outrage and opposition from Republican politicians, right-wing media, and fossil fuel industry surrogates, who have often disparaged the new technology and related policy and misleadingly framed the EV push as a threat to American jobs and national security.

    Constant attacks on EVs from the right have helped fuel a politically divided market, where people who identify as Democrats are now much more likely to buy them or consider buying them, while nearly 70% of Republican respondents to a recent poll said they “would not buy” an EV. So far in 2024, headline after headline announced EV sales slumps and proclaimed that “EV euphoria is dead,'' despite reports of “robust” growth. In February, CNN changed a headline about EV sales on its website from a success story to a failure. Despite the positive long term outlook for EVs based on indicators like sales and government investments, the discourse around electric vehicles is often pessimistic.

    Nowhere is this phenomenon more visible than on social media. 

    Media Matters compiled and analyzed Facebook posts related to EVs from U.S. news and political pages between January 1 and June 1 of this year and found that the majority of posts framed EVs in a negative light. The analysis also found that negative posts earned more than triple the interactions that content with a positive or neutral framing earned. 

    Media Matters also isolated Facebook posts from right-leaning U.S. news and political pages. In both this data set and the data set that included pages of all political leanings, the subject we saw the most was automakers or car rental companies rolling back their commitments to selling EVs.

  • Key findings

    • Between January 1 and June 1, 81% of the posts analyzed were related to sales setbacks, performance or charging issues, or other negative press. These posts had over 1.3 million interactions, accounting for 79% of total interactions related to EVs.
    • Posts related to automakers or car rental companies rolling back their commitments to selling EVs made up over a third of this content. Another popular topic focused on performance issues sometimes exacerbated by cold weather, which made up 20% of posts related to EVs. 
    • Nearly three quarters (74%) of EV-related posts on nonaligned pages (neither left-leaning or right-leaning) had a negative framing. These posts generated 83% of all interactions on EV-related posts from nonaligned pages. 
    • Out of the top 100 posts related to EVs on right-leaning pages, 95% were negative. Of the negative posts, 43% were related to automakers or car rental companies rolling back their commitments to selling EVs -- these posts earned over 477,000 interactions. 
  • Posts that were negative about EVs — covering sales setbacks, performance issues, charging issues, and other negative press — earned 79% of total interactions, or 3 times more than content that had a positive or neutral framing combined

  • While EVs are experiencing some growing pains, particularly in the U.S., BloombergNEF recently found that “EV adoption is still growing, despite the mixed near-term outlook.” Despite what Canary media calls “day-to-day messiness of the transitioning auto industry” the reality is that “more than one-fifth of the vehicles sold worldwide will be an EV or a PHEV this year. In 2018, just about 2 percent of cars sold fit into this category.” If EVs in the U.S. follow an S-curve trajectory, which has been established by EV markets in China and Europe, rapid growth is likely in the coming years.

    However, on Facebook Media Matters found that this “day-to-day messiness” appears to be getting much more attention than the big picture. Negative stories related to EVs represented 81 out of 100 posts and generated 1.3 million interactions. That’s far more than more positive stories (15% of interactions) or neutral stories which presented both pros and cons (7%). 

    Even though EV owners are largely satisfied with their purchases overall, the emerging industry is still responding to challenges. These issues, particularly frustration with charging networks, which increase concerns about driving range, are a speed bump on the road to electrifying transportation. 

    Facebook users were drawn to news stories about Teslas breaking down in the cold, or people waiting in lines for hours to charge their EVs.

  • Image of FO 35 Orlando news story on Facebook
  • Some of the positive stories, which were apparently largely overlooked, included news of expanding charging networks in states like Florida, Michigan, and California. In another post, President Joe Biden declared that “the future of electric vehicles will be made in America by union workers.” 

  • Posts about automakers or car rental companies rolling back their commitments to EVs drove engagement

  • In 2024, auto giants like Ford and General Motors, which are at the forefront of the transition to EVs in the U.S., announced they would be delaying the rollout of new electric models or cutting back on production commitments because of lower than anticipated demand.

    The top post on right-leaning pages during the study period, which was posted by Breitbart and earned 58,283 interactions, highlighted that Ford lost $1.3 billion on EVs in the first quarter of 2024. Another top post, from a local Fox affiliate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, featured a story with the headline “Hertz selling 20,000 EVs from rental fleet; will invest in gas-powered vehicles.” This post earned 76,224 interactions.

  • Image of Breitbart story post on Facebook
  • FOX6 Milwaukee story on Facebook
  • The rental car company later announced it would be selling more EVs after it made a deal with Tesla to offer the cars to renters and the value of the cars went down. On top of that, Tesla has had its own challenges. In April, the company reported that its first-quarter earnings plunged by 48%. 

    Stories about automakers and EV sales garnered 675,188 interactions (38%) compared to content about charging infrastructure (164,150 interactions, or 9%) or even EV trouble in cold weather (295,794 interactions, or 17%). 

    When looking at the top 100 posts from right-leaning political pages only, Media Matters found a similar pattern. Posts related to automakers or EV sales garnered 477,233 interactions (45%). Posts about charging infrastructure earned just 7% and posts about performance issues, particularly in cold weather, earned 10% of interactions. The remaining posts covered an even wider range of different topics. 

    Importantly, EV sales are still growing, despite setbacks. In May, Ford reported a 65% increase in hybrid and EV sales. Also in May, Bloomberg reported that “EV sales are still booming for most automakers — even if Tesla is in a nut.” The article pointed out that, “Six of the 10 biggest EV makers in the US saw sales grow at a scorching pace compared to a year ago.” 

    On the predicament at Hertz, CNN reported that the problem,“wasn’t necessarily that the cars were electric, and customers simply do not want to drive electric cars. The problem was how Hertz handled the fleet in general.” For example, Hertz did not have charging stations at its rental locations, and the company has been mired by other issues as well. This important context was largely omitted from the post text, headlines, or first paragraphs of the top posts Media Matters analyzed. On Facebook, the optimistic long-term outlook on EV growth was largely ignored. 

  • Politically nonaligned pages — not just right-leaning ones — helped drive engagement around negative stories

  • Right-wing media have been driving anti-EV sentiment (with help from fossil fuel industry allies) since the start of Biden’s term. This trend was clearly reflected in Media Matters’ analysis. Out of the top 100 posts related to EVs on right-leaning pages, 95% were negative, earning over a million interactions in 2024 so far. 

    But on Facebook, politically nonaligned pages fed into this trend as well. Nearly three quarters (74%) of EV related top posts on nonaligned pages had a negative framing. These posts generated 83% of all interactions on EV-related top posts from nonaligned pages. 

    Some of the same headlines that received attention on right-leaning pages also got attention on nonaligned pages. Several local news outlets highlighted Ford and Hertz’s losses, along with other problems related to EVs struggling to charge in cold weather

    Our analysis indicates that media on Facebook are not contextualizing conversations about the so-called EV sales slump, and other problems that most nascent technologies inevitably face. The nation is undertaking a massive and necessary transition to electrify the transportation sector, reduce car dependency, and expand access to public transit. Transforming the transportation sector in this way will not only cut planet-warming carbon pollution, but will also improve health outcomes for many Americans. 

  • Methodology

  • Using CrowdTangle, Media Matters compiled a list of 1,773 Facebook pages that frequently posted about U.S. politics. For an explanation of how we compiled pages and identified them as right-leaning, left-leaning, or ideologically nonaligned, see the methodology here. The resulting list consisted of 771 right-leaning pages, 497 ideologically nonaligned pages, and 505 left-leaning pages.

    Using CrowdTangle, Media Matters compiled all posts for the pages on this list that were posted from January 1 through June 1, 2024, and were related to electric vehicles. We reviewed data for these posts, including total interactions (reactions, comments, and shares).

    Two Media Matters researchers separately defined posts as related to electric vehicles if they had any of the following terms in the message or in the included link, article headline, or article description: “EV,” EVs,” “electric vehicle,” “electric vehicles,” “electric car,” “electric cars,” “electric bus,” “electric bus fleet,” “electric trucks,” “electric truck”, “auto workers”, “tailpipe emissions”, “tailpipe pollution,” “gas cars,” “gas-powered cars,” “internal combustion engines,” “internal combustion engine,” “ICE cars,” “ICE car,” “auto industry,” “gas-powered vehicles,” “gas-powered vehicle,” or “automakers.”

    In addition to the list of right-leaning, left-leaning and nonaligned pages, researchers separately reviewed data for an even larger subset of the top posts from January 1 through June 1, 2024, and looked at the top 100 posts from right-leaning pages. This list was also organized by the number of total interactions (reactions, comments, and shares). 

    For both lists, the researchers then determined which posts perpetuated a negative, positive, or neutral framing of electric vehicles or charging infrastructure. We defined negative posts as falling into at least one of the following categories:

    • Posts reporting declining sales or profit losses for electric vehicles.
    • Posts highlighting any sort of performance issues with electric vehicles, such as a lack of range, particularly in cold weather.
    • Posts highlighting issues with charging infrastructure.
    • Posts suggesting that electric vehicles are more environmentally damaging or unethical than gas-powered vehicles due to the impact of mining for critical minerals or the mix of the electric grid that powers them.
    • Posts reporting that electric vehicles are unpopular among consumers.
    • Posts claiming that electric vehicles are bad for American workers. 

    We determined that positive posts outlined the environmental or public health benefits of decarbonizing transport, highlighted new charging infrastructure, and reported on how electric vehicles are protecting and creating new manufacturing union jobs, as well as how rapidly electric vehicle adoption is spreading around the world.  

    Posts that we categorized as neutral had both positive and negative elements or reported on legislation related to electric vehicles without discussing how they would benefit or harm the economy or the climate.