The Truth About Facebook's Supposed Conservative Bias

Your uncle’s not the only one sharing Fox News.
Mike Segar / Reuters

It's been a bad week for Facebook.

On Monday, the site was accused of harboring a bias against conservative news in its Trending Topics module. The Senate's GOP-led commerce committee has since launched an inquiry demanding answers about how Trending Topics work on Facebook.

But you shouldn't worry that people aren't getting a full view of the right wing. NewsWhip, an analytics firm that tracks how content is shared online, provided data to The Huffington Post Tuesday showing that conservative news outlets like Fox News and Breitbart are among the most widely distributed on the social network.

"We've seen conservative news sites traditionally do very well," Liam Corcoran, head of communications at NewsWhip, told HuffPost.

"Smaller players like Breitbart, the Independent Journal Review [and] the Blaze have at various stages been in the top 10 publishers of Facebook rankings and would consistently get millions of Facebook interactions each month," he added.

Here's data from several months in 2015 and March 2016. The first chart refers to the total number of "likes" on articles from certain publishers, while the second refers to total "shares" of those articles. Fox News and Breitbart, typically considered conservative outlets, are doing pretty well compared to the competition.


At first glance, it looks like Fox and Breitbart began to tank compared to the competition. But Corcoran says not to jump to conclusions.

"I wouldn't put this decline down to the content of the sites themselves," the analyst told HuffPost. "In the case of Breitbart, their likes and comments actually increased between June 2015 and March 2016. In the case of Fox, those numbers include all local affiliates to the Fox network, so it's a broad coalition of sites, many of which may be seeing challenges in the way that their content is engaged with in the News Feed."

The figures aren't surprising. Facebook's News Feed is an entirely different beast than its "Trending" feature. It uses an algorithm to arrange content published on the site by publishers and individual users. The end result is that Facebook's News Feed prioritizes content it thinks you're likely to engage with, which some say reaffirms users' biases rather than exposing them to different points of view.

While this shouldn't dissolve concerns over how Facebook chooses stories for its Trending Topics, it proves that the argument isn't about whether conservative news is distributed on Facebook. It absolutely is -- in large quantities, to boot.

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