Facebook Provides Fascinating Glimpse Into Society, Media Demographics

As the popularity of personal web profiles continues to skyrocket, their utility as a demographic research tool has increased dramatically, both as a means of studying the general public but also to study the ideological bent of the self-described mainstream media.

On the second point (see below for a discussion of the first) a recent study of Facebook profiles of BBC employees finds, surprise surprise, that Britain's taxpayer-funded network is utterly dominated by socialists:

A survey of BBC employees with profiles on the site [Facebook] showed that 11 times more of them class themselves as "liberal" than "conservative."

Critics seized on the figures as evidence that the supposedly impartial corporation, paid for by the licence fee, is dominated by liberals. [...]

Research by the conservativehome. com website showed that 1,340 staff put themselves in the "liberal" or "very liberal" category, compared with just 120 who were "conservative" or "very conservative". Some 340 regard themselves as "moderate." [...]

[S]eparate research revealed that nearly 80 per cent of those who describe themselves as "liberal" on Facebook either vote Lib- Dem (49.9 per cent) or Labour (38.5 per cent).

Just 3.9 per cent in the liberal category said they vote Tory. The research was carried out by Samuel Coates, the deputy editor of conservativehome, a Tory grassroots Internet site.

On the general demographic angle, Republican political consultant Patrick Ruffini has been doing some interesting analysis of American Facebook profiles.

According to Ruffini's research, liberals are far more likely to be taking advantage of Facebook than conservatives, except for the younger generation of righties. For the political right, this is both a strategic difficulty in the present internet age but also an opportunity:

Out of idle curiosity, I started running an ideological breakdown of Facebook users by age, starting at Facebook’s minimum age of 14 and working my way up. The spreadsheet is here so you can follow along.

It was after I started reached the mid-20s that I stumbled upon something that may help quantify the early adopter bias. High school and college users were pretty consistently about 4-8 points more liberal than conservative. That’s sort of where you’d expect them to be given the 18-29 year old vote. And Facebook’s market penetration with this cohort is such that this is likely to be a highly representative sample of Americans that age.

But the older you got, through users in their 20s, the more liberal the user base became. It was inexorable. Each year, liberals picked up a couple of points on conservatives. My fellow 29-year olds on Facebook are +25.3% liberal. The 20-year old bracket is +4.5% liberal.

Given how stable the numbers were for college/high school users, with much higher numbers, this seemed unlikely to suggest an actual demographic shift in Generation Y.

But something else was going on. As liberals were picking up steam, the number of Facebook users were getting progressively smaller with each age cohort. [...]

This is pretty strong evidence of a liberal/early adopter correlation. Non-college Facebook users in their late twenties are two to one liberal where their college age counterparts are pretty closely matched.

That two-to-one ratio probably correlates with usage of other high-end web services and even traffic to the candidate sites themselves. It also gives quantifiable backing to the idea that Republicans stand to gain as the universe is widened entering the general election, as I’ve long suspected. [...]

Most campaign sites are probably getting visitorship in the tens of thousands of visitors per day, if that. That’s still within the early adopter universe. As politics online becomes more mainstream, the Democrats’ potential for growth is considerably constrained. Actual online engagement among people who are fully comfortable with the medium (the Millenials) is no worse than the D/R split in voting. That’s still a problem for Republicans given our challenging numbers with 18-29 voters, but the problem then becomes merged with the electoral one rather than being compounded by online-specific trends. As the popularity of the tools grows and the Millenials go mainstream, the 2-to-1 split Democrats have counted on could be a thing of the past.

While this data seems to indicate a natural increase in the online audience for right-oriented publications, it also means that there is a large, untapped market out there for existing conservative and libertarian readers. Activating this audience to take the next step beyond just doing email would be another great opportunity. It will also be necessary if the right wants to keep those new potential online political news consumers engaged and active in the future who would take to the web anyway. Here's hoping that the conservative think tanks, policy and activist groups realize this trend and act accordingly. This effort will also require conservative online activists (such as 97% of you reading this) to educate and motivate their friends and family to start taking part in the political and social web.

Speaking of Facebook, I highly recommend that you sign up for it. It's interesting and can be useful for keeping track of people you know. My friends and I have been surprised how many people you know who may already be on it. NewsBusters has a group on there as well which you can join.

Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013