US Election 2016: What Impact Did Facebook Actually Have?

16/11/2016

US presidential election is over, the result is well known. However, many questions left unanswered. One of them - what was Facebook's role in shaping the campaigns as well as their end results? We decided to analyse the impact of the social network with the help of our Consumer Connection System.

Fiona Booth Fiona Booth Account Director Edinburgh Facebook social media news CCS
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Following the surprising, if not outright gobsmacking, election of Donald Trump as the next President of the United States of America, Mark Zuckerberg has taken the very public step of denying that the Facebook News Feed impacted on the result.

Much has been written recently about the Facebook 'echo chamber', and even more so following Brexit and the US Election, with people questioning Facebook's role not just in shaping the campaigns but in their end results. The locus of the question lies in Facebook’s News Feed algorithm - the more we like and share content that mirrors our own views the more the algorithm shows us similar content, and we end up in an 'echo chamber' of our own unchallenged opinions; and this impact is felt before we even begin to consider the effect of the fake content which circulates like wildfire on social media!

So how important is Facebook as a news source?

According to our Consumer Connection System (CCS), around one third of adults use social networks for news, rising to almost half of Millennials. Millennials are also 72% more likely than the average adult to follow their favourite newspapers on social media sites. 

CCS also explores peoples reasons for sharing content online. For 39% of Millennials it is to share recent news, but only 14% of this demographic are sharing content to provoke debate, again feeding into the ‘echo chamber’ effect. 

If we consider the proportion of time spent reading different news sources, the importance of digital amongst Millennials is even clearer. The latest Touchpoints data from the IPA shows that only 15% of Millennials’ time spent reading is to Newsbrand Print compared to 46% of all adults.  Digital Newsbrand and the BBC News online take up much more of Millennials reading time, with ‘other online news’ in third place (which will include social media). These figures are only likely to increase as according to CCS, 38% of Millennials agree that reading news online means they read newspapers less.

 

Chart Source: IPA Touchpoints

Per CCS, 45% of adults visit Facebook once a day or more, and 61% of Millennials, which is an awful lot of exposure to the ‘echo chamber’. These figures suggest that Facebook really is a major source of information and news, but if the content being shared is not being vetted or following any editorial guidelines then it is easy for misinformation and fake stories to dominate the algorithm-driven news feed.

Facebook may have started out as a social media platform but it has also stumbled its way into becoming a major source of news for most people, especially Millennials. Given that, it now has a responsibility to deliver news content that is not only accurate but diverse. So whilst it is true that we naturally engage with content which we agree with, even if we continue to dismiss those wider and differing views and opinions we will at the very least have been exposed to them.

Fiona Booth Fiona Booth Account Director Edinburgh Facebook social media news CCS
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