The research, shared on Wednesday in Research & Politics, details a gap in engagement growth “unique to Facebook” between the GOP pages and their Democratic counterparts by 2019.
The growth included a “doubling of the total shares” of local GOP parties’ posts to their pages compared with Democratic posts ― posts that occurred more often ― on their pages in the first half of 2019, the research said.
“Regardless of Facebook’s motivations, their decision to change the algorithm might have given local Republican parties greater reach to connect with citizens and shape political realities for Americans,” the research authors noted in their abstract.
“The fact that private companies can so easily control the political information flow for millions of Americans raises clear questions for the state of democracy.”
Kevin Reuning, a Miami University assistant professor of political science and co-author of the paper, shared the “weird pattern” he and other co-authors spotted in social media data.
Reuning, in an interview with NBC News, said “The Facebook Files” stories by The Wall Street Journal “made him consider whether Facebook had a hand” in the data change starting in 2018, NBC News reported.
Dani Lever, a spokesperson for Meta, the Facebook parent company, told NBC News the research “doesn’t add up” to what Facebook’s 2018 change to prioritize “meaningful social interactions” actually did for the platform.
“The trends here instead seem to coincide with a divisive election cycle, and since the differences between political parties in the U.S. have been growing for decades, the idea that a change to Facebook ranking would fundamentally shift how people choose to engage with political parties is implausible,” Lever wrote to NBC News.