The New York Times’s Kevin Roose says that Facebook has become “a completely parallel universe, in which Trump’s response to Covid-19 has been fast and effective; in which these riots in Portland and other cities are the biggest news story in the world.” He dived in to the data and was shocked by what he found.
But the right’s dominance on Facebook, specifically, is something to behold. Here are just a few data points I pulled from CrowdTangle this week:
- The conservative commentator Ben Shapiro has gotten 56 million total interactions on his Facebook page in the last 30 days. That’s more than the main pages of ABC News, NBC News, The New York Times, The Washington Post and NPR combined. (Data from a different firm, NewsWhip, showed that Mr. Shapiro’s news outlet, The Daily Wire, was the No. 1 publisher on Facebook in July.)
- Facebook posts by Breitbart, the far-right news outlet, have been shared four million times in the past 30 days, roughly three times as many as posts from the official pages of every Democratic member of the U.S. Senate combined.
- The most-shared Facebook post containing the term “Black Lives Matter” over the past six months is a June video by the right-wing commentators The Hodgetwins, which calls the racial justice movement a “damn lie.” The second most-shared Black Lives Matter post? A different viral video from The Hodgetwins, this one calling the movement a “leftist lie.” (The Hodgetwins also have the 4th, 6th, and 12th most shared posts.)
Facebook’s Trump Army goes hand in glove with its QAnon following. Explosive, vast, impermeable and useful. Data on its size, shape and intentions is Facebook’s to know, share and exploit.
We’re too used to talking about Facebook a certain way: that it (and Zuckerberg) is naively allowing the far right to prevail there because it is obsessed with “engagement”, sentiment graphing, and all the other measures of our minds it can sell to advertisers. Sometimes this is further identified with a vaguely-liberal techie libertarianism in which free speech is the paramount virtue. This might be taken in good faith, or as an ideological cover for encouraging people to throw in more data to wring money from.
But we have to consider that Facebook’s cultivation of these audiences is intentional, simply because a Democratic congress and president would present a more potent threat to Facebook than Trump and his cronified GOP ever will. It’s no secret that Zuckerberg is more concerned with conservative critics than progressive ones, a concern often cast as fear but could just as well be because that’s who he and his team wants to please. The right will carp but it knows it rules Facebook from the inside out. Only the left talks seriously about breaking it up.
Facebook is happy to deliver the election to Trump because it has overwhelming incentives to do exactly that. Democrats must stop looking at Facebook as a battlefield and see clearly that it’s a weapon that’s pointed right at them.