FACT CHECK: Are Facebook’s Top Stories ‘Almost All’ From Conservative Sites?

Emily Larsen | Fact Check Reporter

People on Twitter said Tuesday that the top stories on Facebook each day are nearly all from conservative sources, citing a tweet from New York Times technology writer Kevin Roose.

“@Facebook’s top stories each day are almost all from conservative sources,” journalist Zach Everson tweeted.

“The top stories every day on Facebook are almost exclusively conservative,” another user tweeted.

“This is the same every single day. We have a crisis on our hands,” DailyKos trending news manager Jennifer Hayden tweeted.

CNN host and media correspondent Brian Stelter said in his newsletter Nov. 19 that the conservative websites in Roose’s tweets were getting the most interactions on Facebook.

“These sites are getting the most interactions on FB,” Stelter’s email said. “CrowdTangle data that shows the sources of the top stories on Facebook, as measured by # of interactions, and the top 10 list typically skews conservative.”

Verdict: False

The Daily Caller News Foundation used CrowdTangle to analyze the top 10 performing posts on Facebook each day from Nov. 1 to Nov. 20 and found that while posts from conservative pages did appear in the top 10 more often than liberal or mainstream pages, the posts were not “almost all” conservative.

The top publishers on Facebook aren’t necessarily those that reliably have posts in the top 10. The New York Times only appeared a few times in our analysis, but according to NewsWhip, it has one of the highest levels of engagement on the platform.

When looking at the engagement publishers receive across all of their stories, not just Facebook’s top posts, conservative sites made up a minority of NewsWhip’s list of top 10 publishers for Facebook in August, September and October.

Fact Check:

Roose spurred discussion on the ideological leaning of Facebook posts when he tweeted a list of the pages that had the top 10 performing posts Nov. 19.

The list showed which posts got the most interactions (likes, reactions, comments and shares) over the past day, according to social media monitoring tool CrowdTangle, and only included posts with links.

Roose has listed the sources of the top performing Facebook posts in several other tweets, and the lists usually include many right-leaning sources. His most recent tweet included conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, The Daily Caller, Christian evangelist Franklin Graham and Fox News.

Some people said that Roose’s lists debunk the claim that Facebook is censoring conservatives. “Day after day of CrowdTangle data contradicts the frequent assertion that FB penalizes right-wing sites,” Stelter wrote in his newsletter.

Others used Roose’s lists to falsely claim that the Facebook posts with the most interactions each day are “almost all” conservative.

TheDCNF pulled CrowdTangle data on Nov. 21 for the top 10 posts that received the most interactions each day from Nov. 1 to Nov. 20. Only English-language link posts were included in our analysis.

Across that 20-day window, conservative pages did not make up nearly all of the 200 posts in the top 10.

Right-leaning sources like Fox News, Graham and Shapiro appeared in the daily top 10 a total of 72 times. Liberal sources like Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, HuffPost and Occupy Democrats, as well as mainstream news sources like CNN, NPR and local news stations appeared 56 times. Other pages, like entertainment site LADbible and Chinese news network CGTN, appeared 72 times.

Fox News appeared in the top 10 more than any other page, 35 times. “The Other 98%” was the liberal page that appeared most frequently, eight times, and CNN appeared nine times, more than any other mainstream news outlet.

The sources of the posts with the most interactions vary from day to day. Some days, a majority of the top 10 posts come from conservative pages, but other days a majority of posts come from liberal and mainstream news sources. It was slightly more common to see a majority of conservative posts in the top 10.

On Nov. 5, for example, LADbible had two posts in the top 10 and half of the posts were from right-leaning pages. The next day, election day, HuffPost, CNN, NPR and Sanders accounted for seven posts in the top 10.

CrowdTangle data is always changing as posts get more likes, reactions, shares and comments in the days after they were posted. So although TheDCNF pulled the data on Nov. 21, some of the more recent posts have moved up or down in rank since Nov. 21.

For example, a Nov. 20 post from the liberal page Really American has gotten more interactions since TheDCNF’s analysis, bumping it into the top 10 for that day. These sort of shifts did not significantly affect our original tallies.

Another firm that tracks social media engagement, NewsWhip, uses a different method to identify the top publishers on Facebook. It tracks which sites had the most likes, comments and shares across all stories on Facebook, not just the top posts, and compares that engagement among sites for a given month. This gives a more complete picture of how news publishers are performing on the platform.

The majority of NewsWhip’s top 10 sites for engagement each month are not conservative outlets. In October, the list included four right-leaning outlets. CNN and the Times were number one and two. Entertainment sites UNILAD and LADbible topped the list in September, and three right-leaning sites (Fox News, The Daily Mail and The Daily Wire) made it to the top 10. The same three right-leaning outlets appeared on the list in August.

Screenshot from NewsWhip

Roose told TheDCNF in an email that he did most of his Facebook analysis before Nov. 6 for a project tracking social media performance ahead of the midterm elections. “I don’t cherry pick data based on which outlets are performing better on a given day, but it’s possible that the mix of politics/non-politics stories has shifted since the midterms,” he said.

Stelter, Everson and Daily Kos did not respond to requests for comment.

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Emily Larsen

Fact Check Reporter