Strong support from white evangelicals is essential for President Donald Trump’s reelection efforts. In a new study, Media Matters found that influential evangelical leader Franklin Graham has used Facebook to promote pro-Trump talking points and right-wing narratives to his millions of followers -- spreading this messaging with posts that earn higher engagement than even Trump’s own posts. These findings further underscore the reality that social media companies are not censoring conservatives, despite right-wing media’s repeated claims.
Key findings include:
- On Facebook, Franklin Graham earned an average of over 219,000 interactions per post between January 1 and October 18, 2020. This is roughly double the average interactions per post earned on Trump’s posts during the same time frame.
- Graham’s Facebook page earned over 105.5 million interactions between January 1 and October 18, 2020. These interactions were earned on only 481 posts. Comparably, Trump earned at least 563.7 million total interactions on over 5,000 posts.
- Between January 1 and October 18, 2020, nearly a third of Graham’s posts that include links went to Fox News and Fox Business articles and videos. These 75 posts earned over 19.6 million interactions. These posts earned 10 times more average interactions per post than posts by two of Fox News’ Facebook pages, the overall Fox News page and the page for the show Fox & Friends. Graham posted seven of the top 10 posts that link to Fox News.
- Graham’s posts accounted for at least one of the top 10 posts with links for at least half of the days in September. The majority of these posts are overtly political, either attacking Democrats or praising Trump, his administration, and/or conservative policies.
- Graham earned roughly 313,000 average interactions per post, with nearly 100 of his election-related posts earning a total of over 30.4 million interactions between January 1 and October 18, 2020. These posts are among some of the top posts about the election. Of the top 10 election-related posts in September that included links, Graham posted five of them.
White Christians, particularly white evangelicals, overwhelmingly support President Donald Trump and the Republican Party. In 2016, 77% of white evangelical Protestant voters backed Trump, accounting for at least a third of Trump’s 2016 coalition. Strong support from white evangelicals is considered essential for Trump’s reelection efforts, but as support for the president has dropped among U.S. adults overall amid the coronavirus pandemic, support has also dropped across most Christian groups in the last six months, including among white Catholics and white evangelicals.
Franklin Graham, who is the son of the late evangelical leader Billy Graham, is a vocal supporter of Trump, in part because Trump, in his explanation, is “defending Christians from secularists.” Just like his father, Franklin Graham is an influential evangelical leader, attracting big crowds at rallies and using social media to promote evangelical, pro-Trump, and other right-wing narratives to his millions of followers. He often reaches a bigger audience online than Trump himself.
In a new study, Media Matters used CrowdTangle data to compile and analyze hundreds of Facebook posts shared on Franklin Graham’s page between January 1 and October 18, 2020. Media Matters found that Graham has a strong and active following on Facebook, with his posts consistently earning hundreds of thousands of interactions -- and they often promote Trump, his agenda, and Fox News content.
Graham outperformed Trump on Facebook, earning over 100 million interactions on only a few hundred Facebook posts
President Donald Trump is known for his extensive social media use and following. But Graham’s Facebook page outperforms Trump’s, according to two different performance metrics: average interactions per post and average interaction rate.
Between January 1 and October 18, 2020, Graham's Facebook page posted only 481 times, but these posts earned at least 105.5 million total interactions, receiving an average of 219,000 interactions per post. His average is roughly double the average of interactions per post earned on Trump’s posts during the same time frame. Trump shared over 5,000 posts and earned roughly 563.8 million total interactions, resulting in an average of roughly 111,000 interactions per post.
Interaction rate is a performance metric that measures engagement of a Facebook page in relation to the number of page likes and how frequently it shares posts. With roughly 9.1 million page likes, Graham earned an average interaction rate of 2.4%. This rate is nearly four times the average interaction rate of 400 of the largest right-leaning Facebook pages (0.64%). By comparison, Trump’s page had an average interaction rate of 0.37%.
Graham is a major amplifier of Fox News articles and videos, pushing out the network’s pro-Trump messaging
At least 241 of Graham’s posts between January 1 and October 18, 2020, included links, and notably, nearly a third of them link to Fox News and Fox Business articles and videos. These 75 posts earned roughly 19.7 million interactions.
Media Matters reviewed the top 30,000 Facebook posts between January 1 and October 19, 2020, that linked to Fox News. Only the Fox News and Fox & Friends pages, both of which are official Fox News pages, earned more total interactions on all their posts than Graham. And these posts earned an average of roughly 25,000 interactions per post, while Graham’s posts far exceeded this average, earning nearly 10 times as many average interactions per post, or over 250,000.
Additionally, Graham posted seven of the top 10 posts that link to Fox News during the time period studied. These posts were all political, promoting Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court, praising Trump, and attacking Black Lives Matter, which is an organization that protests against police brutality.
Graham’s posts are frequently among the daily top 10 Facebook posts with links; many of these posts are political
In addition to outperforming Trump and other right-leaning pages, Graham’s posts frequently reach the site’s daily top 10 posts with links. Graham accounted for at least one of the top 10 posts with links for at least half the month of September. Some of these posts focused on tragedies, COVID-19, and other human-interest stories, but the majority of posts were overtly political, either attacking Democrats or praising Trump, his administration, and conservative policies.
Graham's posts attacking Democrats
Graham's posts praising Trump and his administration
Graham's posts promoting conservative policies
Graham’s election-related posts earned over 300,000 average interactions per post
Media Matters reviewed all election-related posts that Graham shared between January 1 and October 18, 2020. During this time frame, Graham earned roughly 313,000 average interactions per post, with nearly 100 election-related posts earning a total of over 30.4 million interactions.
In September alone, Graham posted 14 times about the election. These posts earned over 3.4 million total interactions. After reviewing 10,000 election-related posts with links that were posted in September, Media Matters found that Graham’s eight election-related posts with links earned over 327,000 average interactions per post, which is more than any other page. Only two other pages, conservative political action committee CFG Action and Barack Obama, even earned over 100,000 average interactions per post.
Graham posted five of the top 10 election-related posts in September that included links. These posts, which attacked Democrats, praised Trump, or promoted conservative policies, were all among the top 10 posts with links on the day that they were posted.