Ideologically extreme members of Congress do better on Facebook

Members whose voting records are more solidly left-wing or right-wing tended to have more supporters on Facebook

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published August 22, 2017 2:58PM (EDT)

 (Getty/Sean Gallup)
(Getty/Sean Gallup)

When it comes to social media, extremism of any stripe tends to beat out centrism.

A new survey by Pew Research Center discovered that the most liberal and most conservative members of Congress had significantly more followers than their moderate counterparts. As of July 25, 2017, the most left-wing and most right-wing members of the House of Representatives had a median of 14,361 followers, while moderates had a median of 9,017 followers.

The gap was even more stark within the Senate. While the most liberal and most conservative senators had a median of 78,360 followers on Facebook, their moderate counterparts scrounged up a median of 32,626 — less than half that of the more extreme legislators.

As to why this is happening, Pew has a theory:

But a February Pew Research Center analysis of Facebook posts shared by members of the previous Congress found that very liberal or conservative lawmakers were more likely to share content that expressed indignation or disagreement on political matters, and that such posts drew more engagement online. Other research that examined past Congresses using the same measure of ideology has found that media outlets were more likely to cover the most liberal and conservative members of the U.S. House than they were moderates.

If there is a silver lining to this story, it's that it provides an explanation for America's widening ideological gulf that does not involve Russian hackers and social media bots. As more and more Americans turn to Facebook and other social media outlets for their news, it seems likely that the tendency of those venues to reward the ideological extremes — regardless of why precisely that is happening — will continue to shape our political life.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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