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Members of Congress 'share' differences on Facebook

Posted: Dec. 20, 2017 | Tags: Pew Research Center

Political schisms influence which national news outlets members of Congress share on Facebook, according to a new analysis published by the Pew Research Center.

"Just as some news sources are overwhelmingly popular among just Republicans or just Democrats in the broader public, the same political divisions appear to shape the kinds of outlets that members of Congress are sharing on Facebook," Adam Hughes, one of the authors of the report, said.

The analysis found that nearly half of all Facebook posts made by members of Congress that contained links to stories from national news media were to outlets predominantly shared by members of just one political party.

Links to The New York Times, for example, were shared more than 4,000 times by members of Congress. But more than 80 percent of those shares were by Democratic lawmakers. Democrats accounted for more than 90 percent of links to The Huffington Post, now known as HuffPost.

The study also found that 5 percent of these links were to national news outlets that had been exclusively shared by members of just one political party. The conservative Breitbart News was linked to nearly 700 times, and Republicans accounted for every share.

Of the 106 national news outlets included in the study, 32 were predominantly linked to by Republicans, 30 linked to by Democrats, and 44 were linked to by a mix of lawmakers from both sides.

Links to CNN received an almost equal number of shares among Democrats and Republicans. The Washington Post and The Hill were commonly shared by members from both parties as well.

Another interesting finding: The 2016 presidential election appears to have galvanized Congressional Democrats, who became twice as likely to share national news on Facebook after Donald Trump's election. And "angry" button reactions to these posts more than tripled.

"The election of President Trump really heralded a change in how often Democrats in Congress were sharing national news links online," Hughes said. "It'll be interesting to follow the consequences of that change moving forward."

A previous study from the Pew Research Center found that more Americans get their news from Facebook than any other social media site.

To conduct this most recent analysis, researchers analyzed nearly 500,000 Facebook posts made by members of Congress between January 2015 and July 2017, eventually focusing on more than 40,000 posts that linked to stories from national news outlets.

"Pew Research Center has done a lot of work that examines the changing polarization within the public over time," Hughes said. "I'm excited to continue research on this."

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