This week, amid the four-day Senate-led hearings to consider President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, right-leaning Facebook pages dominated the narrative around the nomination, funneling right-wing talking points into the platform’s discourse and once again dispelling the years-old allegation that Facebook censors conservative content.
Media Matters’ analysis shows that posts on right-leaning pages garnered more overall interactions (reactions, comments, shares) than posts from left-leaning or ideologically nonaligned pages. We analyzed more than 12,700 posts from political pages from October 12 to October 16 and found that the top performing content was almost exclusively from right-leaning pages. Five of the top 10 posts were from Fox News, and two were from President Donald Trump’s official Facebook account and featured attacks on Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
These findings once again disprove the right-wing talking point that Facebook and other social media platforms censor conservative viewpoints, an argument that has been rigorously debunked despite the right’s persistent efforts to claim the opposite. The findings also demonstrate that Facebook has become a hotbed for right-wing talking points and narratives to spread -- in this case, about the Supreme Court hearings. Findings include:
- Right-leaning pages earned over 20.6 million interactions, or 47% of overall interactions, despite accounting for only 25% of the posts.
- Engagement on posts from left-leaning pages earned over 15.1 million interactions, or 34% of engagements, while representing only 30% of total posts.
- Posts from ideologically nonaligned pages accounted for the remainder of the engagement, 19%, but made up 46% of total posts.
- Of the top 10 posts, nine were from right-leaning pages. Of these nine, Fox News accounted for five, two were from Trump, one was from Breitbart News, and the final right-leaning post was from The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro. The only non-right-leaning post in the top 10 -- in this case, a left-leaning post -- was from Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s account and discussed Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris’ (D-CA) role in the hearings as a member of the committee.
Using CrowdTangle, Media Matters compiled a list of 1,773 Facebook pages that frequently posted about U.S. politics from January 1, 2020, to August 25, 2020. Such pages were from news and media outlets, media figures, politicians, political parties, and issue-focused advocacy groups, among others. Each page satisfied the following criteria:
- Had over 100,000 page likes on August 25, 2020.
- Targeted a U.S. political audience.
- Posted at least one political post each week on average between January 1, 2020, and August 25, 2020.
- Posted at least five times or had an average of at least 75,000 interactions per post between January 1, 2020, and August 25, 2020.
- Had a political ratio (explained below) of at least 5%.
We defined a page’s political ratio as the total number of political posts during the studied time period divided by the total number of posts during the same time period. Political posts were defined as any post that included at least one keyword from a list of 320 words describing or referring to political topics, including the names of numerous U.S. politicians, government officials, and government agencies.
Three researchers independently coded pages for two factors: (1) whether the page targeted a U.S. political audience and (2) the page’s ideological alignment (left-leaning, right-leaning, or ideologically nonaligned). We reviewed each page individually and each page was given a final code if two of the three researchers independently awarded it the same code.
To be considered as targeting a U.S. political audience, a page had to be written in English and had to not solely highlight the politics of another country. We also excluded pages that clearly focused on entertainment or lifestyle content.
We determined the ideological alignment of a page by looking to see if an ideology was clearly stated in a page’s title, about section, profile, or header pictures.
We coded pages as left-leaning if they identified as Democrat, liberal, left or left-leaning, pro-Biden, pro-Obama, pro-choice, pro-racial equality and justice, or pro-environment. We coded pages as right-leaning if they identified as Republican, conservative, right or right-leaning, pro-Trump, pro-Second Amendment rights, pro-life, pro-Confederacy, or libertarian. Pages that explicitly identified as being against one of the positions were coded as the opposite ideology. For example, anti-Trump pages were coded as left-leaning.
We coded pages as ideologically nonaligned if they represented legacy media, local media, or government agencies. Pages for U.S. embassies abroad were removed from the sample due to an overall lack of content focused on U.S. politics. We relied on a Pew Research Center definition of legacy media as any news organization that was not “born on the web,” including print newspapers and television and radio broadcasting organizations.
All pages that did not explicitly state one of the above positions were examined on a case-by-case basis and analyzed using the following criteria:
- If a page did not self-identify its ideology but was owned by an entity that did outwardly express an ideology, the page in question was coded based on the owner's additional pages.
- If the page’s most recent 3-5 posts clearly expressed an ideology, the page was coded accordingly.
- If a page’s 10 most recent posts with links shared three or more media outlets or pages that self-identified as a particular ideology, the page was coded accordingly. Commentary on links was considered in conjunction with link sharing. For example, if a page consistently shared an outlet to criticize its content, the page in question was coded with the opposite ideology.
- If the 10 most recent shares of a page’s posts were made by three or more pages that self-identified as a particular ideology, the page was coded accordingly.
- If a page was affiliated with a known right- or left-leaning media outlet, including that outlet’s journalists or personalities, the page was coded accordingly. Subsidiaries of these known outlets were coded based on their parent outlet.
Any page that could not be coded using any of the criteria or was not coded in the same way by a majority of the coders was not included in the final sample. The resulting list of pages consisted of 771 right-leaning pages, 497 ideologically nonaligned pages, and 505 left-leaning pages.
Using CrowdTangle, Media Matters compiled all posts made on this list of 1,773 Facebook pages that were posted between 8 a.m. EDT October 12, 2020, and 8 a.m. EDT October 16, 2020, and were related to the Senate-led hearings to confirm President Donald Trump’s nominee Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.
We defined posts as related to the hearing if a post had any of the following terms in the message or in the included link, article headline, or article description: “Supreme Court,” “SCOTUS,” “nomination hearing,” “nomination hearings,” “hearing,” “Amy Coney Barrett,” “Barrett's,” “Barret,” “Barret's,” “Barett,” “Barett's,” “Harris,” “Kamala,” “Graham,” “Lindsey Graham,” “Feinstein,” “Diane Feistein,” “Fienstein,” “Fienstien,” “Grassley,” “Leahy,” “Cornyn,” “Durbin,” “Sen. Lee,” “lee,” “Sen. Whitehouse,” “Ted Cruz,” “Cruz,” “Klobuchar,” “Hawley,” “Coons,” “Sasse,” “Blumenthal,” “Tillis,” “Hirono,” “Ernst,” “Cory Booker,” “Booker,” “Crapo,” “John Kennedy,” “Sen. Kennedy,” or “Blackburn.”
We reviewed the data for the resulting 12,756 posts, including total interactions -- reactions, comments, and shares -- using CrowdTangle.