Molly Butler / Media Matters

Research/Study Research/Study

Right-wing media and Republican lawmakers are the only ones talking about critical race theory on Facebook

Among posts from political Facebook pages that mention critical race theory, nearly 90% are from right-leaning pages

Right-wing media outlets and Republican lawmakers have been kicking up a fuss over critical race theory, falsely attacking the academic movement that studies systemic racism. In a new study, Media Matters has found that they are also driving discussion on Facebook, where nearly all mentions of the theory come from right-leaning pages — particularly right-wing media personality Ben Shapiro. In fact, Media Matters found that nearly 90% of these posts — and 97% of the interactions the posts earned — came from right-leaning pages.

  • Critical race theory is an academic movement focused on recognizing the effects slavery and institutional racism continue to have on the U.S. The theory, which can be traced back to the 1970s, is an intellectual framework that one of its founders Kimberlé Crenshaw described as “an approach to grappling with a history of White supremacy that rejects the belief that what's in the past is in the past, and that the laws and systems that grow from that past are detached from it.” Scholars have used the theory to examine multiple areas of society, such as discriminatory labor practices, access to education, bank lending, and housing segregation, as well as a host of microaggressions. 

    Since the summer of 2020, when the murder of George Floyd sparked nationwide protests against police brutality, Fox News and other right-wing media outlets have attacked critical race theory, uplifted others’ attacks on it, and pushed false claims that the academic movement is “racist” and “Marxist” and that it punishes people for being white. Former President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers also fueled these narratives. Right-wing media are invested in promoting these narratives and are making it a “top issue,” even though critical race theory has been part of academia for the last few decades.

  • The right’s attacks on critical race theory are unsurprising, as conservatives have united around the false claim that systemic racism and white supremacy are no longer problems in the U.S. In fact, in 2019 the Public Religion Research Institution found that 69% of Republicans say that discrimination against whites is as great a problem as discrimination against minorities. And more than three-quarters, or 77%, of Republicans who rely on Fox News as their primary news source said the same.

    In a new study, Media Matters analyzed over 3,600 posts about critical race theory that were posted from right-leaning, ideologically nonaligned, and left-leaning pages between November 3, 2020, and May 17, 2021. We found that nearly all mentions of the theory came from right-leaning pages, with right-wing media (specifically The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro) and Republican lawmakers largely driving discussions around the topic.

  • Right-leaning pages account for nearly 90% of posts about critical race theory and 97% of interactions

  • Media Matters’ analysis found that nearly all mentions of critical race theory by political Facebook pages are from right-leaning pages. These pages posted 3,220 times about critical race theory, accounting for nearly 90% of posts from political pages about the theory and earning 13.2 million interactions -- or roughly 97% of interactions

    Comparatively, ideologically nonaligned pages posted 212 times, earning roughly 225,000 interactions, and left-leaning pages posted 181 times, earning roughly 235,000 interactions.

  • Facebook Critical Race Theory
  • Right-wing media and Republican lawmakers have driven the discussion by right-leaning pages about critical race theory

  • Media Matters found that pages posted more about the theory as Republican lawmakers moved to ban it from being taught in states across the country and right-wing media repeatedly attacked the approach. These flashpoints occurred on March 17-18, between May 6 and 8, and between May 12 and 14.

  • Facebook CRT 2
  • March 17-18

    On March 17, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced changes to the state’s civics curriculum, noting, “There is no room in classrooms for things like critical race theory.” The day of the announcement and the next day, right-leaning pages posted about critical race theory nearly 150 times, earning over 1.7 million interactions on these posts. Many of these posts praised DeSantis’ comments against critical race theory and included videos or right-wing articles promoting his stance. In fact, Ben Shapiro’s post with video of DeSantis earned roughly 5.9 million views.

  • May 6-8

    Between May 6 and May 8, right-leaning pages praised Republican lawmakers for various state bills to ban critical race theory from school curricula. During this time, these pages mentioned critical race theory in 238 posts, earning over 1.6 million interactions. 

  • May 12-14

    Right-leaning pages posted about critical race theory at least 317 times between May 12 and 14, earning over 1 million interactions, as right-wing media pushed a narrative that parents were “rising up” against the scholarly approach. In particular, right-leaning pages shared videos and right-wing articles about a Virginia mother who argued against critical race theory at a school board meeting and about Republican lawmakers sponsoring bills to ban it from school curricula.

  • Right-wing personality Ben Shapiro drives engagement for posts from right-leaning pages about critical race theory

  • Media Matters found that Daily Wire founder Ben Shapiro earned nearly 30% of the engagement on all posts from right-leaning pages mentioning critical race theory that were posted between November 3, 2020 and May 17, 2021. Shapiro’s posts — there were 88 of them — earned over 3.5 million interactions even though they comprised less than 3% of the total posts. 

    Notably, overall right-leaning engagement for posts mentioning critical race theory drastically increased on days when Shapiro posted about the theory.

  • FB CRT 1
  • In addition to accounting for a significant portion of engagement, Shapiro accounted for 7 of the top 10 posts about critical race theory between November 3, 2020, and May 17, 2021. All of the top 10 posts were from right-leaning pages, and each attacked critical race theory, questioned whether it should be taught in schools, or praised Republican governors for banning the topic from being taught in schools:

    Ben Shapiro_facebook post_20210427
    Over 343,000 interactions

    Ben Shapiro_facebook post_20210429
    Roughly 276,000 interactions

    Ben Shapiro_facebook post_20210318_2
    Roughly 244,000 interactions

    Ben Shapiro_facebook post_20210411
    Roughly 244,000 interactions

    Ben Shapiro_facebook post_20210503
    Roughly 235,000 interactions

    Ben Shapiro_facebook post 20210321
    Roughly 173,000 interactions

    Ben Shapiro_facebook post_20210505
    Over 161,000 interactions