Data research of SZ newspaper: the Facebook-factor

In an expansive new study, the SZ newspaper details the contours of political Facebook use in Germany
Be it via subscriptions to fanpages or likes by friends, every Facebook newsfeed is filled with political content. In light of the upcoming German federal elections, the SZ newspaper investigated the make-up of this newsfeed and whether it can be used to mobilise potential voters. Does Facebook only expose its users to politically like-minded messages?

To answer this question, the research-team of the SZ collected Facebook-posts by the parties The Left, the Greens, SPD, FDP, CDU, CSU and the AFD, as well as the likes of users that had interacted with those posts. The data collection yielded more than 1 million likes by 5000+ users.
The analysis of those was to answer the question of what kind of (if any) connections between the adherents of different parties exist and whether they form some sort of network. The journalists found no evidence for the existence of so-called ‘filter bubbles’; instead, they found significant overlap between the Facebook-fans of different parties.
The parties The Left, the Greens, SPD, CDU and CSU form the center of this network, linked by politicians like Angela Merkel or Martin Schulz and newspapers with a wide reach such as the SZ or Spiegel Online. Only the AFD is more removed from the center; noticeable is that its fans news media consumption differs from those of all the other parties. There are very little connections to the Facebook pages of other parties except for the CSU: here, some overlap exists between rightwing-populists like Heinz Christian Strache or media like the Epoch Times or Junge Freiheit. The SZ also developed a tool with which users can find out how partisan their newsfeed is by comparing it with the collected dataset.

Other articles in the series are concerned with the democratic consequences of political Facebook usage and what role the fight for voters plays in the forming of political opinions. Lena Frischlich, PhD (PropStop project), argues that in this context the term propaganda, commonly associated with state actors, has to be rethought of for the online context: “Nowadays, everyone can become a propagandist” – deliberately or unknowingly. In this way, messages which are perceived as authentic are shared and spread across the network.

Further articles from the series “The Facebook-Faktor” (all in German):
News online: filter bubble – it’s your fault!
Digitalisation and politics: welcome to the new democracy
Political strategists on Facebook: how parties campaign online
Fake News and Social Bots: A guide to staying on top in the information war
News media on Facebook: AfD-fans like „Mainstream-Media“ too