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Facebook shares stats regarding user engagement in the U.S. prior to elections

Over the past few days, the U.S. presidential elections have been the center of focus for news media, social media, and people all over the globe. During this time period, social media platforms have also been active in trying to prevent the dissemination of fake news, especially those related to premature calling of races by various political figures.

With the presidential elections now being called in favor of Joe Biden by most prominent media outlets, Facebook has shared some interesting statistics regarding user reach and engagement in the U.S. in the time period leading up to the elections.

Facebook states that only 6% of the content you see on the platform is related to politics and even though the company repeatedly prompted users regarding the importance of voting in the days leading up to the elections, it was Halloween-related content that saw twice the increase in posting on the day of the elections.

Furthermore, while users may have engaged with political content more during the period leading up to the elections, this does not equate to the reach of this type of content. Simply put: just because more users are reacting to a post via likes or comments does not mean that the content is reaching more users. There are other metrics such as user surveys which control the flow of content on Facebook as well.

For example, while the top U.S. pages in terms of engagement during October 23-29 were largely related to politics, such as Fox News, Breitbart, CNN, Ben Shapiro, Donald Trump for President, Joe Biden, and Team Trump, among others, the top U.S. pages in terms of reach were quite different. Here are the top 10 pages that people saw during October 23-29:

  1. The Dodo
  2. Rick Lax
  3. Steve Harvey
  4. AARP
  5. Justin Flom
  6. Donald J. Trump
  7. Tasty
  8. Fox News
  9. Delish
  10. Memes

Alex Schultz, VP of Analytics and Chief Marketing Officer at Facebook, had the following to say:

We have also seen public comments on changes to the Pages that were getting the most engagement in the period just after the election results were called. Some Pages like the New York Times, NPR, CNN and the Washington Post saw really big spikes in engagement.

Some had massive spikes on the day election results were announced, but generally declined after the race was called for Joe Biden. A smaller effect appears to have been due to the temporary measures we put in place to address potential misinformation and delegitimizing content on our platform related to the election.

We are now seeing these lists return to a state similar to what we saw before the election while our temporary measures remain in place. We believe this means that the hypothesis around big spikes in engagement is likely the most important factor, as the other measures mentioned are ongoing.

Another interesting observation by the Facebook data science team was that after the race was called in favor of Joe Biden by most media outlets, there was a huge increase in the "heart reacts" applied on political content, while "angry reacts" were at their usual levels.

Facebook has also stated that it continually receives requests to share more data so the platform's impact on civic discourse can be studied. To comply with this, the company's Facebook Open Research and Transparency (FORT) project is partnering with researchers from distinguished universities. Together, they will study data from this election period by conducting privacy-protected experiments with the publication of the first research papers expected by next year. In light of the Cambridge Analytica scandal from 2018, the firm is being extra careful this time with respect to how it shares data with partners.

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