On Jan. 25, at a speech at the Department of Homeland Security, Donald Trump officially announced his executive order to construct a wall along the Mexican border. “We are going to restore the rule of law in the United States,” the president told the room.
The speech was met with, naturally, divided reactions by the press. “Trump Flips Liberals’ Script,” Breitbart’s headline read. Right-wing blog the Gateway Pundit simply said, “IT BEGINS.” The Intercept, meanwhile, decried Trump’s executive order as “appalling” in its headline.
But millions of people chose to skip the media — and its attendant bias — entirely and watch the speech live, via Facebook. There, however, they were greeted with a litany of comments and emoticon reactions, all colored by the point of view of the outlet broadcasting it. As it turns out, escaping the filter bubble is harder than it seems.
To better understand how different audiences experience the same event on Facebook, BuzzFeed News video captured two different Facebook livestreams of the press conference last Thursday — one from Fox News and one from Fusion. We scraped comments from the two streams and tallied the total number of Facebook reactions (like, love, laugh, angry, sad, and wow). We also collected and compared comments from the moment of the press conference most frequently mentioned and quoted by both right and left-leaning news organizations.
First, one important caveat: The Fox stream reached significantly more people than the Fusion stream did: Fox News had 2.3 million views and 15,675 shares. Fusion had 531,000 views and 4,309 shares by the end of the day of the press conference. Only 2% to 3% of both audiences chose to comment or react to the stream. But those who did had very different emotional reactions to the same speech.
Ninety percent of the roughly 83,000 emotional reactions from Fox News Facebook watchers came in the form of “like” and “love,” with just 5.9% choosing the angry reaction. Viewers of Fusion’s Facebook livestream reacted overwhelmingly negative to the speech. Seventy-one percent of the 14,000-plus viewers who reacted on Fusion’s feed did so angrily; just 22% reacted with “like” or “love.”
Facebook Reactions to President Donald Trump’s Press Conference, by News Organization:
A similar pattern follows for comments: “About time they get to do their job after eight years of Obama’s reign,” one Fox commenter posted just as Trump pledged to give the nation back control of its borders. At the very same moment, a Fusion commenter wrote, “Omg. He thinks he is a god.”
BuzzFeed News identified the most quoted portion among both right- and left-leaning news outlets to demonstrate the difference in tone between the two feeds.
Below is a side-by-side video comparison of how that quote — “A nation without borders is not a nation. Beginning today, the United States of America gets back control of its borders, gets back its borders” — played across the two feeds.
Video of Donald Trump's Remarks About American Borders
The result is something akin to a live or real-time filter bubble, where a viewer’s perceptions of a live event are colored by the commentary that surrounds it. It’s a new problem that’s as old as the cable news chyron and the online comment section, but on Facebook, it’s front and center like never before — at times literally scrawled across the viewer’s video feed. And at a time when concerns over media bias are particularly charged, it’s a potent reminder that there’s no such thing as truly raw video on Facebook.
Lam Vo is an Open Lab Fellow for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.
Contact Lam Thuy Vo at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charlie Warzel is a senior writer for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Warzel reports on and writes about the intersection of tech and culture.
Contact Charlie Warzel at email@example.com.
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