How conservatives won Facebook — and why we should be worried
n 2011, as the then-administrative assistant here at Daily Kos, I inherited the job of managing the site’s Facebook page. I had personally just joined the social network and wasn’t sure how news fit into it, but I gave my new duties a go.
We had 11,000 followers on the page when I started. By 2016, we had over 1.3 million followers, and Facebook was driving 40% of our traffic.
Over time, Facebook changed the game for Daily Kos and many other digital media companies. It made us factor in how stories looked when viewed from a platform outside the site—how our headlines and image choices could invite readers to click and read, how we could add a prompt to encourage engagement. It also made us rethink what we wrote about as we tried to appeal to this new audience, which skewed younger. This was an audience that cared much more about, say, police brutality and the climate crisis than about the ins and outs of Congress.
The social team (now the Trending News team) expanded content for this new audience. We not only managed our site’s pages, but we also wrote stories to cover the issues this different audience thought were important. We made graphics, too, and videos. We had some mega-viral hits, and so did our community, whose work we promoted often on our social media accounts. Everyone writing at Daily Kos enjoyed the extensive reach that Facebook gave us.
It was great. But it didn’t last.
Daily Kos has grown tremendously over the years in both numbers and diversity, in a large part because of Facebook, but we are now seeing that growth slide as Facebook becomes restrictive and more conservative. We have a monthly goal to raise $150,000; it's important for us to hit this goal so we continue to grow against conservative forces. Can you give $5 today to help us reach out goal?
See, while we were building our audience and honing our content for maximum reach during those years, conservative leaders were busy whining to anyone who would listen that their content was getting throttled by Facebook in some kind of vast conspiracy. That the social network, based in the solid-blue Silicon Valley, was rife with liberals who wanted to limit the reach of conservative news.
This was, quite simply, bullshit. In 2017, Fox News was the only partisan news outlet that was a top social media publisher. In 2018, a study found that Fox News continually dominates Facebook engagement by fanning the flames of conservative rage. (Which just blows my mind—conservatives control the executive branch, half the legislative branch, and the judicial branch. Their engagement and online reach is unparalleled. And they’re still angry?!)
They control almost everything. What the hell are they so mad about?
Unsurprisingly, Fox News remains at the top of the list of most engaged web content in the first quarter of 2019, along with conservative Daily Wire and several anti-choice websites with chart-topping headlines like “You Can't Give a Lethal Injection to Murderers in New York, But You Can Give One to an Unborn Baby” and “A Sad and Evil Day: New York Legalizes Abortion Up to Baby's Birth Day on Anniversary of Roe v. Wade.” Right-wing media outlets such as Fox News, the Daily Caller, and Breitbart dominate the charts on Facebook engagement.
But, as we know from conservatives, it doesn’t matter if there is any merit to their claims. It doesn’t matter if they’re lying or not. They know how to put the pressure on and raise enough hell that they still get what they want. When the redacted version of the full Mueller report dropped recently, guess who got the most engagement? Fox News. Lying Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign has already made it known that it plans to spend significant ad money targeting seniors on Facebook.
We’ve moved into a scary place, where facts no longer matter; what matters is who has the loudest voice in the room. And conservatives, no doubt, have raised enough hell with Facebook to win on that front.
Progressives now need to learn that we can’t count on Facebook for anything—it’s become the largest platform for conservative information, misinformation, and disinformation in the country. If we want to win, if we want facts and truth to drown out the right-wing noise, we need to be willing to push harder and shout louder to make our voices heard. And we need to accept the fact that Facebook doesn’t give a damn.