Monday, October 24, 2016

Politics and Lies on Facebook, or Politics and Poker

If you’re getting your political news from Facebook, there’s a pretty good chance you’re being sold a lie.

Both sides do it, according to an analysis performed by Buzzfeed (I know, I know – should I be trusting an analysis from Buzzfeed? That’s a good question).

And, obviously, I’ve answered that question in my own head, as I’ll continue with this post looking at their analysis. Buzzfeed may be jokey and put-near worthless at times, but their news department has occasionally impressed me with their depth of reporting.

While the analysis discovered right-wing-oriented sites tend to publish more lies and half-truths than left-leaning sites, the left-leaning sites have a lot more fans reading and promoting the lies they tell than do those on the right. So the right-wing sites may lie more, but the left-wing sites get its lies spread to a wider audience.

And here I think it’s important to avoid shorthand. If you catch me using terms like “the left,” or “the right” in this post, slap me. Hard. Because Buzzfeed’s analysis looks only at left- and right-leaning sites, not the left or the right, with little letters or capital letters. This is not an indictment, in other words, of any political ideology, just a rather pointed look at certain left-wing and right-wing sites using Facebook to spread more partisanship and truthiness than actual truth.

It’s also a caution – and do we really need another, well, yes, we do – that you should not accept political news offered on Facebook at face value.

So nobody comes out of this particular pile of manure smelling all that great with the exception – you might want to get your smelling salts and fainting couches ready – the mainstream media, which vastly outperforms the left- and right-wing in purveying news that contains actual facts. But nobody on Facebook appears interested in sharing these verifiable, truthful, and fact-heavy stories.

Their analysis is here.

Highlights include:

  • “The more overtly partisan, misleading, or opinion-driven a post was, the more engagement the post would see, according to our data. Facebook, and the people using it, appears to reward the worst of tendencies of these pages.”
  •  Posts that had accompanying video or photos were much more likely to be read, engaged with, and shared. Mainstream news outlets tend to share mostly links, leading to lower engagement among Facebook users.
  •  The frequency with which mainstream news outlets produce information is detrimental to their engagement on Facebook, as their stories had little time to gain traction before other stories drew attention away from them.
  •  False stories posted on either left- or right-wing sites were shared far more often than were true stories posted on those sites.
  •  These sites are, by and large, news aggregators, not news originators or reporters.

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