There are probably a million reasons people at Facebook are upset today, considering the PR disaster, wrapped in a New York Times article, that landed on their doorstep last night. It’s hard to imagine the story being any worse.
First, a quick synopsis for anyone who didn’t read the lengthy NYT piece. Criticisms of leadership and their tactics aside, the core issue at hand is that Facebook user data and the platform at large were allegedly manipulated for political purposes – whether by Russians or others – and that the company didn’t take sufficient steps to stop it or inform the public as it was happening. None of those facts seem to be in dispute.
At face value, Facebook as a political tool might be a completely virtuous application of the platform. Groups can organize and mobilize, cost-effectively and efficiently spread their word, and Facebook can even make a few bucks to keep the service free for individual users.
But here’s the sad irony for Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, and company on this gloomy November morning: Almost nobody wants political content on Facebook in the first place. One could argue, in fact, that politics are merely forced on Facebook users, against their desire, and proliferated by a small politically-vocal few.
See for yourself:
CivicScience asked this poll question to a representative sample of 1,430 U.S. Facebook users the day, coincidentally, before the New York Times bombshell went public. The findings are fairly lopsided. Only 7% of Facebook users like political content on the platform, 19% are indifferent, 21% merely tolerate it, and a whopping 54% would do away with all political content if they had their druthers. In other words, 93% of Facebook’s users would consider it neutral to net positive if the platform banished political posts altogether.
Women, in particular, dislike political content cluttering their Facebook feeds. Only 5% say they like it. No surprise, only 3% of Independents like political content on the platform and 66% would do away with it altogether. Democrats are less bothered than Republicans. Only 48% of Dems say they would prefer to eliminate all political content, compared to 55% of Republicans.
But no matter how you slice the numbers, it’s clear that political content is overwhelmingly unpopular among Facebook’s users. As the company charts its course out of the PR quagmire it finds itself in; perhaps they’ll conclude that all of the trouble caused by political activity on the platform isn’t worth the cyclical revenues it generates and the single-digit percentage of users it accommodates. One way or another, we’re guessing that big changes are coming.