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Protocol | Policy

The most engaging political news on Facebook? Far-right misinformation.

A new study shows that before and after the election, far-right misinformation pages drew more engagement than all other partisan news.

The most engaging political news on Facebook? Far-right misinformation.

A new study finds that far right misinformation pulls in more engagement on Facebook than other types of partisan news.

Photo: Brett Jordan/Unsplash

In the months before and after the 2020 election, far-right pages that are known to spread misinformation consistently garnered more engagement on Facebook than any other partisan news, according to a New York University study published Wednesday.

The study looked at Facebook engagement for news sources across the political spectrum between Aug. 10, 2020 and Jan. 11, 2021, and found that on average, far-right pages that regularly trade in misinformation raked in 65% more engagement per follower than other far-right pages that aren't known for spreading misinformation.

That finding was specific to the far right. In every other category — including far left, slightly left, center and slightly right — misinformation pages saw significantly less engagement than non-misinformation pages of the same political slant.

The research casts doubt on Facebook's efforts to limit the spread of election misinformation leading up to Election Day in November and in the aftermath of the January attack on the U.S. Capitol. Far from a barrier to engagement, the researchers wrote, "Being a consistent spreader of far-right misinformation appears to confer a significant advantage."

The researchers analyzed 2,973 news sources that had their own Facebook pages, had at least 100 followers on average and had been graded for both quality and partisan bias by the news rating organizations NewsGuard and Media Bias/Fact Check. They divided those pages on a spectrum from far right to far left and, within those categories, separated out pages that have been identified for spreading misinformation. Finally, they downloaded all of the public posts from all 2,973 pages to analyze their follower and engagement data over time.

Their findings provide yet another data point to counter conservative claims that they're being more aggressively censored than liberals. The researchers found that not only did far-right misinformation outperform every other ideological category, but far-right news in general also drew far more engagement per follower than any other category. Far-left news came in close behind, suggesting that the more extreme a news source's partisan slant is on Facebook, the more engagement it gets. Centrist news received by far the least engagement per follower during those months.

Engagement was particularly high for far-right news sources on Election Day and on Jan. 6, the day of the Capitol riot. "In the week of Jan. 6, for example, far-right news sources generated just over 500 interactions for every thousand followers of the page" the authors write. "Slightly-right or slightly-left news sources reached only around 150 interactions per thousand followers that week."

The findings align with other analyses of the top-performing posts on Facebook, which have shown far-right commentators like Dan Bongino consistently dominating in the United States.

While the study provides some firm data about how well political news sources perform, questions remain about why this is the case. The researchers can't see, for instance, how many people were shown a given post, which could contribute to the higher engagement numbers. "Further research is needed to determine to what extent Facebook algorithms feed into this trend, for example, and to conduct analysis across other popular platforms, such as YouTube, Twitter, and TikTok," the authors wrote. "Without greater transparency and access to data, such research questions are out of reach."

Some of the paper's authors are also behind the NYU AdObserver, a browser plug-in that enables them to analyze Facebook political ad targeting data. Shortly before the election, Facebook served the AdObserver team with a cease-and-desist letter.

Facebook, for its part, seems to be increasingly interested in limiting the rampant political polarization of its platform. Last month, Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company was launching an experiment to limit the amount of political news in some users' news feeds. "One of the top pieces of feedback we're hearing from our community right now is that people don't want politics and fighting to take over their experience on our services," Zuckerberg said.

The metaverse is coming, and Robinhood's IPO is here

Plus, what we learned from Big Tech's big quarter.

Image: Roblox

On this episode of the Source Code podcast: First, a few takeaways from another blockbuster quarter in the tech industry. Then, Janko Roettgers joins the show to discuss Big Tech's obsession with the metaverse and the platform war that seems inevitable. Finally, Ben Pimentel talks about Robinhood's IPO, and the company's crazy route to the public markets.

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

After a year and a half of living and working through a pandemic, it's no surprise that employees are sending out stress signals at record rates. According to a 2021 study by Indeed, 52% of employees today say they feel burnt out. Over half of employees report working longer hours, and a quarter say they're unable to unplug from work.

The continued swell of reported burnout is a concerning trend for employers everywhere. Not only does it harm mental health and well-being, but it can also impact absenteeism, employee retention and — between the drain on morale and high turnover — your company culture.

Crisis management is one thing, but how do you permanently lower the temperature so your teams can recover sustainably? Companies around the world are now taking larger steps to curb burnout, with industry leaders like LinkedIn, Hootsuite and Bumble shutting down their offices for a full week to allow all employees extra time off. The CEO of Okta, worried about burnout, asked all employees to email him their vacation plans in 2021.

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Facebook wants to be like Snapchat

Facebook is looking to make posts disappear, Google wants to make traffic reports more accurate, and more patents from Big Tech.

Facebook has ephemeral posts on its mind.

Image: Protocol

Welcome to another week of Big Tech patents. Google wants to make traffic reports more accurate, Amazon wants to make voice assistants more intelligent, Microsoft wants to make scheduling meetings more convenient, and a ton more.

As always, remember that the big tech companies file all kinds of crazy patents for things, and though most never amount to anything, some end up defining the future

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Karyne Levy

Karyne Levy ( @karynelevy) is the West Coast editor at Protocol. Before joining Protocol, Karyne was a senior producer at Scribd, helping to create the original content program. Prior to that she was an assigning editor at NerdWallet, a senior tech editor at Business Insider, and the assistant managing editor at CNET, where she also hosted Rumor Has It for CNET TV. She lives outside San Francisco with her wife, son and lots of pets.

Protocol | China

China’s edtech crackdown isn’t what you think. Here’s why.

It's part of an attempt to fix education inequality and address a looming demographic crisis.

In the past decade, China's private tutoring market has expanded rapidly as it's been digitized and bolstered by capital.

Photo: Getty Images

Beijing's strike against the private tutoring and ed tech industry has rattled the market and led observers to try to answer one big question: What is Beijing trying to achieve?

Sweeping policy guidelines issued by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party on July 24 and the State Council now mandate that existing private tutoring companies register as nonprofit organizations. Extracurricular tutoring companies will be banned from going public. Online tutoring agencies will be subject to regulatory approval.

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Shen Lu

Shen Lu is a reporter with Protocol | China. She has spent six years covering China from inside and outside its borders. Previously, she was a fellow at Asia Society's ChinaFile and a Beijing-based producer for CNN. Her writing has appeared in Foreign Policy, The New York Times and POLITICO, among other publications. Shen Lu is a founding member of Chinese Storytellers, a community serving and elevating Chinese professionals in the global media industry.

It’s soul-destroying and it uses DRM, therefore Peloton is tech

"I mean, the pedals go around if you turn off all the tech, but Peloton isn't selling a pedaling product."

Is this tech? Or is it just a bike with a screen?

Image: Peloton and Protocol

One of the breakout hits from the pandemic, besides Taylor Swift's "Folklore," has been Peloton. With upwards of 5.4 million members as of March and nearly $1.3 billion in revenue that quarter, a lot of people are turning in their gym memberships for a bike or a treadmill and a slick-looking app.

But here at Protocol, it's that slick-looking app, plus all the tech that goes into it, that matters. And that's where things got really heated during our chat this week. Is Peloton tech? Or is it just a bike with a giant tablet on it? Can all bikes be tech with a little elbow grease?

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Karyne Levy

Karyne Levy ( @karynelevy) is the West Coast editor at Protocol. Before joining Protocol, Karyne was a senior producer at Scribd, helping to create the original content program. Prior to that she was an assigning editor at NerdWallet, a senior tech editor at Business Insider, and the assistant managing editor at CNET, where she also hosted Rumor Has It for CNET TV. She lives outside San Francisco with her wife, son and lots of pets.

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