While social media and the use of online video were relatively mature already in 2012, one thing that is new in this presidential campaign cycle is the strong emergence of hyperpartisan media outlets that are often native to social media platforms like Facebook.
Facebook pages like Occupy Democrats, or Right Wing News have created media operations on both side of the partisan divide, that differ from traditional media primarily in that they present political messaging tailor made for social media by playing into partisan biases over factual content. They are generally uninterested in whether the information presented is accurate or not.
A recent analysis by Buzzfeed News found that while the Facebook pages for traditional media outlets like CNN, Politico, or ABC News almost never provide untrue information, hyperpartisan Facebook pages present false, or partially false information frequently. In the case of the right-wing Freedom Daily, 46.4% of posts were either not true, or provided a mix of true and untrue information.
These kinds of pages have attracted significant following online, often outpacing the reach of more mainstream media outlets. And when mainstream outlets provided untrue information, that was often more successful than true information. Buzzfeed concluded that “the more overtly partisan, misleading, or opinion-driven a post was, the more engagement the post would see, according to our data”.
A New York Times Magazine investigation came to a similar conclusion, emphasizing the use of memes and the ability of these new media outlets to build outwards from social media platforms, unlike traditional media outlets that have struggled to figure out how to apply their existing formulas to the medium from the outside.
More research needs to be done on these developments, but one thing is certain: content that affirms existing biases in short, often aggressive ways, does well on social media, and especially on Facebook. Pages that capitalize on this often grow dramatically, and have more reach than mainstream media outlets. The echo-chamber this creates can be difficult to break out of, and Facebook has been reluctant to make changes.
We can expect to see more of this going forward, both in the United States, and here in Europe and Scandinavia.