What is going on with Facebook’s latest Political News Feed Restrictions?
Facebook recently announced yet another restriction on “political” content. The company is conducting initial tests to reduce the visibility and distribution of political content on users’ news feeds.
Though Facebook has not specified what they will deem “political content” for this latest restriction, their restrictions on “political” ads extended broadly to organizations and companies that shared content related to social issues.
This isn’t the first time Facebook has rolled out such changes: In the days after the 2020 election, Facebook deliberately reduced the reach of partisan news outlets, and has banned political ads on its platform since the election.
Facebook says that this latest news feed restriction is an attempt to limit COVID-related misinformation and limit partisan, divisive news outlets:
“Over the next few months, we’ll work to better understand peoples’ varied preferences for political content and test a number of approaches based on those insights. As a first step, we’ll temporarily reduce the distribution of political content in News Feed for a small percentage of people in Canada, Brazil and Indonesia this week, and the US in the coming weeks. During these initial tests we’ll explore a variety of ways to rank political content in people’s feeds using different signals, and then decide on the approaches we’ll use going forward.”
According to Social Media Today, this news feed change could be implemented as a permanent feature on the platform in the near future: “If Facebook's tests show that more people engage more often, in more positive ways as a result, it'll look to implement the change more broadly — which, given the impact of political partisanship over the last four years, will be the likely outcome.”
Why is this of particular note for racial justice organizations?
Facebook has long been used as an organizing platform for justice organizations due to its relative accessibility. This is especially true for progressive, racial justice fights. According to Pew Research Center surveys, “Black social media users have been particularly likely to say that these [social media] sites are personally important to them for getting involved with issues they care about or finding like-minded people.” Black, Asian, and Latinx populations more readily see and use social media platforms, including Facebook, as tools for societal change.
Despite this, Facebook has, for years, consistently proven itself to be a hostile and often harmful place for marginalized folks, especially for POC. According to a ProPublica, Facebook consistently applies a problematic “colorblind” lens to their censorship: “Unlike American law, which permits preferences such as affirmative action for racial minorities and women for the sake of diversity or redressing discrimination, Facebook’s algorithm is designed to defend all races and genders equally.”
More recently, a report by the Tech Transparency Project (TTP) reported that right-wing extremists used the platform to plan the January 6 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol, apparently making it past Facebook’s censors. While the social media platform said it had banned these right-wing militant groups, pages, and posts over the summer, TTP’s reports show that extremist groups continued to flourish on Facebook well after summer.
This is echoed in the myriad stories from Black, Brown, and POC users and groups who say that their posts, messages, and groups were being restricted and deleted, even well before political news feed restrictions were in place,
What could this mean for racial justice organizations?
While this political news feed restriction is intended to clamp down on racist, extremist language and content on Facebook, the actual results may vary. If Facebook’s past attempts to restrict problematic content are any indication of how this future restriction will play out (it very likely will be), then we should expect little protection for POC and racial justice organizations.
POC and racial justice organizers should be prepared for the potential that their content will actually face increased censorship as the platform suppresses political content. With this, we will also likely see fewer impressions and engagements on such content as it displays to fewer users. Only time will tell exactly how this change will directly impact racial justice groups and the larger progressive non-profit sector.
What can we do right now to continue getting our message out to our supporters?
To cut through the uncertainty of social media platform’s ever-changing policies, we recommend building up your organization’s email program. According to Statista, 89% of American internet users between the ages of 15 and 65+ use email. Email is tried, true and remains an essential method for reaching your audience without censoring your organization’s political message.
By focusing on email address acquisition instead of relying solely on Facebook to reach their audience, organizations can build a supporter base that can be cultivated for both action and fundraising. Once a supporter opts into your organization’s email list, you can serve them multiple fundraising asks, action opportunities, and information without the ever changing content restraints of social media.
Read our entire guide on the three reasons you should invest in your email program here.
Need help implementing an email strategy that works for your organization’s unique needs and audience? We’ve got you covered. Schedule a call with us today.