According to analysts, a tweak in Facebook’s algorithm in 2018 benefited Republican groups.

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According to analysts, a tweak in Facebook’s algorithm in 2018 benefited Republican groups. According to new research, a tweak in Facebook’s algorithm in 2018 resulted in huge increases in interaction for local Republican groups, despite the fact that their Democratic counterparts posted more frequently. The findings, initially reported by NBC News, are consistent with one of the Facebook Papers’ biggest revelations. Specifically, a modification intended to promote content from family and friends ended up rewarding negative contributions, making News Feed more divided.

CrowdTangle data was used to measure engagement with posts from local Democratic and Republican parties on Facebook and Twitter between January 2016 and August 2021, according to the newest study published in Research & Politics. The researchers discovered that by the fall of 2018, several months after Facebook announced their algorithm adjustment, there had been a considerable increase in engagement with Republican pages on Facebook, which did not happen on Twitter.

 

“We conclude that, despite the fact that Democratic parties posted more frequently during this period, changes in how Facebook rated content may have resulted in a doubling of the total shares of local Republican party posts compared to local Democratic party posts in the first half of 2019,” the paper’s authors write.

According to the experts, determining what prompted the shift near the end of 2018 is “challenging.” But, owing to the Facebook Papers, they highlight that their findings broadly match with what we know about Facebook’s algorithm change and the reaction to it. In January 2018, the firm announced a substantial shift to News Feed’s ranking mechanisms, emphasizing “meaningful social interactions,” or MSI. However, according to papers released by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen in early 2019, publishers and political parties were questioning whether MSI was rewarding negativity.

“Of course, we can’t say what caused the shift in 2018 without the actual algorithm,” one of the paper’s authors, Kevin Reuning, commented on Twitter. “We can conclude there was a shift, particularly on Facebook, that had an impact on a huge number of local Republican parties.” We may also state that the timing corresponds to what others have observed regarding Facebook’s modifications.”

Meta branded the researchers’ findings “implausible” in a statement to NBC News, claiming that differences in involvement could be linked to other reasons. “It doesn’t add up with what MSI actually did,” a company representative said, “which was to minimize the amount of public content — such as that of political parties — on the platform.” “Instead, the trends here appear to coincide with a divisive election cycle, and given that differences between political parties in the United States have been growing for decades, it’s implausible that a change in Facebook ranking would fundamentally shift how people choose to engage with political parties.”

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