On August 11, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden announced Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) as his running mate. Even before the announcement, right-leaning Facebook pages were leading the platform’s conversation about Harris -- setting the groundwork for narratives about her online.
Our analysis shows that right-leaning pages have posted more about Harris in the past year, and their content has received more interactions, than either left-leaning or ideologically nonaligned pages. The Facebook posts that have gotten the most engagement attack Harris as “dangerous and radical” for her positions on police reform and accuse her of being “on the hard Left” while also claiming that her prosecutorial record is being erased in order to be more appealing to “the Left’s voters.”
Media Matters analyzed over just over 3,000 Facebook posts published between January 1 and August 5, 2020, from right-leaning, left-leaning, and ideologically nonaligned Facebook pages that regularly post content about U.S. news and politics. We found that right-leaning pages accounted for most of the posts made about Harris in the past year. This pattern continued in the run-up to Biden’s announcement: In the last week, right-leaning Facebook pages earned over 330,000 interactions on 142 posts about Harris, while left-leaning pages earned over 220,000 interactions on 71 posts, and nonaligned pages earned over 80,000 interactions on 92 posts.
Not only does this evidence disprove the self-serving right-wing media talking point that conservative content is “censored” by Facebook (a claim that has been consistently and rigorously debunked), but it also demonstrates how right-leaning pages were actively trying to set a negative tone and lay the groundwork for later attacks about Harris before an announcement was ever made.
- Right-leaning Facebook pages earned over 3.8 million interactions on posts about Harris, or approximately 47% of all interactions.
- Right-leaning Facebook pages also shared the most posts about Harris, producing 1,247 of the 3,034 total posts, or about 41%.
- In comparison, left-leaning pages earned a little over 3.1 million interactions on just over 1,000 posts, or roughly 38% of interactions. Ideologically nonaligned pages produced the fewest posts about Harris (744) and earned only about 14% of all interactions.
Media Matters compiled a list of 1,223 Facebook pages that pertain to news and media outlets, media figures, politicians, political parties, and issue-focused advocacy groups. Each page in this study also had over 500,000 page likes, had primarily English-language content, and posted content related to U.S. political news.
Two researchers independently coded pages, and a third researcher independently reconciled conflicts between the two data sets. Researchers coded pages for two factors: (1) content related to political news, and (2) ideological alignment (left-leaning, right-leaning, nonaligned, or “other”). We reviewed each page individually, and we included only pages that regularly focused on news about American politics.
We determined the ideological alignment of a page by its name, information in the “About” section, the page owner, and posts. We coded pages that expressed opposition to President Donald Trump or focused on issues primarily aimed at liberals (e.g., protecting abortion rights, calling for action against gun violence, etc.) as left-leaning.
We coded pages that expressed support for Trump or focused on issues primarily aimed at conservatives (e.g., restricting abortion rights, downplaying gun violence, etc.) as right-leaning.
We coded all pages for right-wing and left-wing media outlets as right-leaning or left-leaning, respectively. We coded pages that did not have an ideological leaning in their content as nonaligned.
If we had any doubt about whether to code a page as nonaligned or left-leaning, we erred on coding the page as left-leaning. We coded pages as “other” if they did not fit in any of the above categories or if they contained a mix of left-leaning and right-leaning content. We excluded these pages from the final data set.
The resulting list of pages was comprised of 384 right-leaning pages, 377 nonaligned pages, 435 left-leaning pages, and 27 “other.”
We compiled and reviewed the data, including total interactions -- reactions, comments, and shares -- of Facebook posts shared by our list of 1,196 Facebook pages, excluding pages coded as “other,” between January 1, 2020, and 4:20 p.m. EDT August 11, 2020.
We defined posts that mentioned a potential candidate as any post that had any of the following terms in the post’s message or in the included link, article headline, or article description: “Kamala Harris,” “Sen. Harris,” “Senator Harris,” or “Kamala.” Posts from Harris’ Facebook pages, Kamala Harris and U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, were excluded from the study.
The resulting data set included 3,034 posts from 162 right-leaning pages, 155 left-leaning pages, and 172 ideologically nonaligned pages made between January 1 and August 5, 2020, and 305 posts from 78 right-leaning pages, 43 left-leaning pages, and 71 ideologically nonaligned pages between 4:20 p.m. EDT August 4 and 4:20 p.m. EDT August 11, 2020.