Research Finds Facebook’s 2018 Algorithm Change Boosted Local GOPs

A change in Facebook’s recommendation system is likely responsible for a disproportionate increase in visibility and engagement Conservative political groups maintain the social media platform as of 2018, according to Search published Wednesday.

The research published in Research & Politics covered publications from the pages of nearly every county in the United States and found a significant increase in posts, comments, and reactions to Republican publications.

Researchers at the University of Miami and Wright State University used CrowdTangle, a social media analysis tool owned by Meta, the parent company of Facebook, to collect the data. It found that posts from local Democratic and Republican Party pages generally had the same rate of interactions through 2018. By 2019, both parties were receiving more interactions, but a large gap formed. By July 2019, posts by local Republican parties had more than three times the number of posts from local Democratic parties.

Kevin Running, associate professor of political science at the University of Miami and author of the paper, pulled the data in 2020 for a different project, and said he initially did not understand the difference in participation. He said he considered that perhaps the Republican messages resonated more, but that the same pattern was not found on Twitter, and was consistent on Facebook across more than 1,000 Republican pages.

“When you’re talking about broad movement across hundreds of different vocal groups, you have to have something changing in the ecosystem,” he said. “When you rule out these other possibilities, you’re left with this black box algorithm where no one really knows what’s showing, what’s not, and why.”

The new paper adds to A growing body of data-driven research It shows that Facebook has constantly amplified content from conservative accounts. He’s the first to suggest an algorithm change Facebook announced in 2018 that amplifies Republican causes at the hyper-local level, allowing the Republican Party to reach a wider audience and potentially affecting local and state elections. Reactions, comments, and stocks began trending lower by 2021 on Republican positions, and the gap between local Republican parties and their Democratic counterparts began to shrink again. Data expires in April 2021.

Ryongg said that Series of Wall Street Journal stories Based on thousands of pages of reports and internal memos filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission last year by Frances Hogan, a Facebook product manager turned whistleblower, it got him thinking about whether Facebook had a role in the sudden turnaround.

a 2018 overhaul In the Facebook News Feed product toward what it calls “Social Meaningful Interactions,” or MSI, content was enhanced with reactions, comments, and shares, the goal of which was to anticipate which posts users wanted to interact with and de-prioritize public content and news. In practice, according to internal Facebook documents and external researchers, allowing MSI to determine how content appears to users has made the platform an even more angry and polarizing place, rewarding users and groups who have shared the most divisive, shocking and misleading content.

Danny Lever, a spokesperson for Meta, questioned the new findings.

“While we have been prevented from reviewing this research, it is inconsistent with what MSI has already done, which has been reducing the amount of public content – ​​such as political party content – ​​on the platform. The trends here seem to coincide instead with a divisive election cycle, and as While differences between political parties in the United States have been increasing for decades, the notion that a change in Facebook’s rating would fundamentally change how people choose to engage with political parties is absurd.,” Lever He said in an email.

Facebook has responded to Wall Street Journal stories by downplaying its role in polarizing content. “Research shows that some partisan divisions in our society have been growing for many decades, long before platforms like Facebook even existed,” said Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone, He told the newspaper.

MSI’s influence on global politics was well known within Facebook.

“Our goal of fostering more meaningful interactions (MSI) with close friends is highly commendable,” read a 2019 internal memo from a team of data scientists, which is included in documents provided by Haugen and seen by NBC News. “But our approach was

Unhealthy side effects on important segments of public content, such as politics and news.” The data scientists wrote that there was “strong evidence” that the effects were attributable to the algorithm.

The internal memo stated that political parties were engaging in increasingly harsh attacks on their political opponents, and taking more extreme political positions. According to the memo, which cited political parties in the European Union, India and Taiwan, the political parties were “stuck in an inescapable cycle of negative campaigning through the program’s incentive structures”.

“Many parties, including those that have aggressively turned negative, worry about the long-term

The effects of term on democracy,” the report stated. Recommendations to reverse the impact included providing political parties “with special pages operating under the old algorithm.”

Jeff Allen, a former Facebook data scientist, said the new research makes sense even if the exact reason behind the phenomenal success of Republicans over Democrats is unclear.

Allen, who left the company in 2019 and co-founded the Integrity Institute, a think tank aimed at building a better social internet, said the change appears to be opening the door for groups to take advantage of the new system.

It’s not all that surprising,” Allen said in a phone interview. “Platforms are optimized for different things, and some actors will be able to respond better than others.”

Allen said in a phone interview that this new research, along with the timing of algorithm changes and reports from global political organizations, raised a “real red flag.”

“The platform should take that very seriously,” he said.

The University of Miami research did not analyze the specific tone or topic of the posted content, so it’s unclear whether local GOP pages have been rewarded for their current level of negativity, or whether they noticed the increased engagement in polarized content and produced more of it, it reported. Facebook’s internal memo on global political parties.

Even as domestic Republican parties approached new heights, the GOP’s patriotic messaging remained rooted in a opposing ideological argument: that Facebook was somehow stifling conservative messaging and impeding its ability to connect with supporters.

in 2020 Pew Research Center Survey90% of Republicans reported that they believed social media platforms intentionally censored political views.

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