News engagement under threat on Facebook?

Earlier this year, Mark Zuckerberg announced that the Facebook news feed would put more emphasis on social relations and less on news. This is the result of several controversies involving Facebook, especially the publication of fake news during the 2016 US elections. One of the concerns of news organizations is that changes to the algorithm may threaten their reach and the audience’s news engagement.

Having collected all posts by news organizations (n=356,188 from 59 Dutch news titles), I am able to analyze how much engagement these posts had and how this may have changed over time. I will look at the number of likes for each post over a 16 week period. We do not know exactly when the new algorithm will be in effect, but sometime after January 12, when Mark Zuckerberg posted the news on Facebook.
Instead of the mean number of likes for posts, I compare the median number of tweets for each week over the 16-week period. I prefer the median over the mean number of likes, because the distribution of likes is extremely skewed: a few posts receive extremely many likes and most of posts only receive a few likes (see for instance De Echo van Nederland). The median is a better measure for central tendency measure because it is incentive for these extremely popular posts. For now, I aggregated the data on a weekly basis to eliminate intra-weekly fluctuations (such as weekends versus weekdays).

Reviewing the first figure, we see that the weekly number of posts on Facebook is quite constant over the 16 week period.

in the second graph (below), the median number of likes fluctuates strongly. We particularly see a drop in week 9 in 2018. Could this be the result of the new news feed algorithm?

For a more detailed view, I prepared the same graph for different types of organization (below). Although all types of platforms have an online presence, they differ in terms of their origins. I distinguish newspapers, television, RTV (mostly radio stations and regional and local broadcasters) and online-only platforms. We see that newspapers publish the most posts, simply because there are many newspaper platforms. Radio, TV and online-only platforms roughly publish the same amount of posts.

Looking at the median number of likes for each type of platform, we see that TV posts on Facebook receive the most likes, while the other platforms receive considerably less likes for their posts. As for the variation across these 16 weeks, we see the strongest decrease in likes for TV news and current affairs programs. The online-only and RTV platforms also shows a slight decrease, while newspapers remain constant over time. Again, in week nine the number of likes declines. At the end of week 16 though, there seems to be some recovery as indicated by a slight increase likes. Whether this increase is persistent, time will tell.

In conclusion, if I were to make a guess when Facebook’s news feed algorithm changed, it would be week nine. Furthermore, it mostly affects news posts that are extremely popular, in this case posts by TV organizations and current affairs programs. Then again, there are many factors that affect the number of likes. So, this might be a continuing story….

Lecture series at University of Pisa on social media, political communication and journalism

A big thank you is in order. Last week I visited the department of political science, University of Pisa. Professor Roberta Bracialli invited me to give a number of lectures for her students about social media in politics and journalism, as well as to have some discussions with PhD-students. I really enjoyed doing the lectures, having the discussions on- and off-campus. Roberta Bracialli and her team do interesting stuff. Looking forward to seeing more of their output, and I hope we’ll be able to further our collaboration.

This visit was made possible by the Erasmus Plus program. So, if @CW_RU students might want to study at the University of Pisa, we have an exchange agreement. The city and student life in Pisa, from what I’ve seen, is very vibrant. Good food, nice bars, hanging out in the streets until late and nice concerts. Close by to excellent Florence. All in all, I really enjoyed my time in Pisa.

Thanks to Roberta Bracialli (@braccialer), Antonio Martella (@Vot4ntonio), Cesar Crisosto (@cesarcrisosto), Chiara Visentin (@ChiaraVis13) and Luca Corchia (@Luca_Corchia).

Asian trip 2017-2018

You know the phrase that time flies when you’re having fun? Well, late August I left the Netherlands for a one-week trip to Singapore for the KAS conference, two weeks R&R in Indonesia and a five-month project in Japan. Well, it was over very quickly. Well, that’s how I perceived it anyway. And now I’m already back in the Netherlands for three weeks. And yes, I sometimes I’m homesick for Japan. I mean it’s a very nice country to be. The people are very nice, the scenery is very beautiful, when you know where to look. And of course, the food is absolutely the best.
I had been to Japan three times before, as a tourist, mostly in the spring. Now I had the opportunity to experience autumn and winter, and the occasional typhoon. Christmas began early in Japan, at least for Starbucks: December 1st and all music and decorations were in the spirit of Xmas. Me, from the Netherlands, having Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet on December 5th Starbucks, reallllyyyy: 1st December is tooooooo early for Xmas!
The winter period can be quite cold, but is for the most part beautiful with a lot of sun. This year we had some snow, which is – at least for the east coast – exceptional. The west coast had a lot of slow too. Way too much as far as I could tell.
The project itself was financed by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, for which I am grateful. I also thank University of Tsukuba for acting as host. I really enjoyed the campus life.

A few thanks you for some people. First, the people at the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science for inviting me. Leslie Tkach-Kawasaki for all the tedious admin-work. I am glad I didn’t have to do that. Junku Lee for the occasional film and nice conversations. Muneo Kaigo for the nice conversations over dinner. And Naoki Fukuhara for our meetings at Starbucks talking about our paper. Also, a thank you to all the people I met during my stay, the dinners and drinks.

It’s been a productive period, having collected over 80Gb of social media data. It was pure luck that Abe announced snap-elections two weeks after I arrived in Japan. I’m working on a few papers on social media in election campaigns and newspapers strategies in the use of social media. that should emerge from this project. Let’s hope the editors and reviewers like them too 🙂