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The “backfire effect” is mostly a myth, a broad look at the research suggests
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April 19, 2018, 10:53 a.m.
Audience & Social
LINK: www.cjr.org  ➚   |   Posted by: Laura Hazard Owen   |   April 19, 2018

More meaningful interactions! More love for local news! These were supposed to be some of the positive changes associated with the algorithm change Facebook announced early this year. But so far the local news love is lacking: Pete Brown, senior research fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, crunched the numbers and found that “11 out of 13 regional metros averaged fewer interactions per post in the nine weeks following the pro-local algorithm change than in the two years before.” And the 13 regional metros that Brown looked at? They’re the papers that are participating in Facebook’s Local News Subscription Accelerator.

Here’s the data pre- and post-algorithm change, which Brown collected using CrowdTangle:

It’s worse at some papers than others:

“Three outlets saw average interactions fall by over 50 percent — The Dallas Morning News, The Denver Post, and the San Francisco Chronicle. A fourth, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, was not far behind, with average interactions down by 46 percent….

A couple local outlets have seen increases in interactions since the pro-local news algorithm change. Average interactions on posts by The Miami Herald increased by 7 percent. The biggest outlier in this sample is Philly.com, whose average interactions rocketed by 38 percent; however, this was partly driven by extraordinary levels of interaction with posts about the Eagles’ Super Bowl win.

Meanwhile, data suggests that hyperpartisan sites are still doing pretty well post-algorithm change, and engaging content like “a six-minute clip of a twentysomething white woman showing off her small, blandly decorated Brooklyn apartment” is plentiful. Room for improvement!

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