WASHINGTON – It’s no longer speculation that Facebook’s changing algorithms has hurt what is perceived as right-of-center news sites and benefited left-of-center online news outlets, according to a comprehensive analysis by WesternJournal.com.
According to the study, liberal publishers have gained about 2 percent more web traffic from Facebook than they were getting prior to the algorithm changes implemented in early February. On the other hand, conservative publishers have lost an average of nearly 14 percent of their traffic from Facebook.
“This algorithm change, intentional or not, has in effect censored conservative viewpoints on the largest social media platform in the world,” the study concludes. “This change has ramifications that, in the short-term, are causing conservative publishers to downsize or fold up completely, and in the long-term could swing elections in the United States and around the world toward liberal politicians and policies.”
The WesternJournal.com study compares two rival New York publishers — the New York Post and the New York Daily News. The Post is well-known as a right-leaning outlet, whereas the Daily News has an established left-leaning slant. The Daily News saw a 24.18 percent increase in traffic from Facebook, while the right-leaning Post’s traffic dropped 11.44 percent in the same time period.
The report quotes Campbell Brown, a former anchor on NBC and CNN who now leads Facebook’s news partnerships team, who told attendees at a recent technology and publishing conference that Facebook would be censoring news publishers based on its own internal biases: “This is not us stepping back from news. This is us changing our relationship with publishers and emphasizing something that Facebook has never done before: It’s having a point of view, and it’s leaning into quality news. … We are, for the first time in the history of Facebook, taking a step to try to to define what ‘quality news’ looks like and give that a boost.”
The Western Journal selected 50 publishers known to receive a significant amount of online traffic from Facebook. The publishers include traditional print or television outlets such as The Washington Post, CNN and Fox News, as well as new media outlets like Salon, Vox and The Daily Caller. (The full list of publishers appears in the chart below.)
The Western Journal then assigned each publisher a number between 0 and 100 based on Media Bias / Fact Check News, a third-party website that analyzes publishers for political bias and places them on a continuum between “extreme left” and “extreme right.” Next, The Western Journal checked the monthly Facebook traffic for each of these sources using data from global digital market intelligence company SimilarWeb and compared January traffic to traffic from Feb. 4 through Mar. 3, adjusted for the slightly shorter time period. According to available internal data, Facebook began rolling out this major algorithm change on Feb. 6.
The results showed the 25 on the liberal side of the scale averaged a 1.86 percent boost in traffic from Facebook, whereas the 25 news organizations on the conservative side averaged a 13.71 percent decrease in traffic.
“Based on this analysis, it is clear that liberal news sites are being promoted in Facebook users’ news feeds more often than conservative sites,” the report concluded.
After removing the 15 publishers with the least traffic from Facebook, the trend becomes even more clear. Of the remaining 35 news sources, the 12 most liberal sites averaged a boost of 0.21 percent – in other words, they don’t appear to have been affected in any meaningful way.
Of the 12 most conservative sites, only two benefited from increased Facebook traffic – the Daily Mail with 3.51 percent and Fox News with 31.67 percent, the report found. The other 10 saw decreases ranging from 3.13 percent at Breitbart to a whopping 76.49 percent at Independent Journal Review. On Feb. 15, IJR announced significant layoffs to an “already skeletal staff,” The Daily Caller reported. Rare, a conservative leaning new media publication owned by Cox Media Group, experienced a 68.7 percent drop in traffic after the algorithm change. Rare shut down entirely last week, Axios reported.
Fox News was the only conservative site that saw significant growth in this calculation. If Fox were removed from the group of 12 conservative sites shown above, the average drop would grow to 32.4 percent among the remaining 11, the report found.
Facebook did not respond to a request for comment submitted by the Western Journal.
For the full data set, visit this public Google Sheet.