Believe it or not, it has only been two and a half weeks since D****d T***p left office, and a sense of normalcy has at least somewhat returned to the West Wing. While Congress continues to be kind of a mess, engaged in intense battles on impeachment, process, and reprimanding a QAnon influencer in their ranks, the Biden administration is moving full speed ahead with their agenda. Meanwhile, online platforms like Facebook are starting to make decisions related to how they will define and regulate political content moving forward.
We’ll break that down + more in this week’s FWIW, but first…
The Biden administration has been working around the clock to sell their agenda, especially the American Rescue Plan. But since the president and his allies can’t go on the road or buy ads to promote it directly to the American public, their digital team has had to think creatively to produce A1 content at scale extremely quickly. So far, they seem to be pulling it off.
While Press Secretary Jen Psaki has been a daily fixture in the briefing room and on TV, the Biden administration has been using its online channels to highlight its executive actions, appointments, and proposed legislation directly to the American people.
The @WhiteHouse is releasing produced videos on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram where members of the team directly communicate the importance and impact of their policies – including this one yesterday with American hero Dr. Fauci, this one from National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy and this casual Q&A with Psaki that got over 5.5 million views across platforms. Today, they launched a new video highlighting conservative voices urging passage of the American Rescue Plan:
They’re also looking to revive the president’s weekly address with a digital-first mindset, according to a new report from the New York Times. This FDR-era tradition recently had time to shine during the Obama years, but because DJT has the discipline of a slug, the previous administration all but stopped doing these addresses in 2017.
For Biden at least, these types of efforts may have paid off so far, as a new poll out yesterday showed that Americans overwhelmingly approve of his job as President and more than two-thirds of Americans support Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID package. 🏅
The AP poll above also found that at least three-quarters of Americans have confidence in Biden’s ability to address the pandemic, a sentiment that the administration is almost certainly eager to maintain. They seem to be taking a similar approach on this crisis as they are on telling the public about what’s in the American Rescue Package. The WH COVID-19 Response Team, for example, has started providing frequent, easy-to-understand updates on vaccine dissemination Twitter.
WHAT’S “POLITICAL” ANYWAY?
Potentially standing in the way of these online efforts to sell the Biden administration’s accomplishments is Facebook, who announced last week that they’d soon be making moves to reduce political content in people’s Newsfeeds. Here’s what Facebook’s done so far:
Indefinitely banned political advertising
Stopped recommending users join political groups
Reduced “political” content in Newsfeed
POLITICO reported last week on how moves by Facebook to curtail political groups recommendations on the platform could have negative impacts on grassroots advocacy groups on the left who rely on community organizing.
Regardless of how you feel about the new policy changes, there’s one major source for concern: How will Facebook decide what is, and what is not political content? Is it by the account posting content? The link or content shared? Keywords in the post?
Will they view Franklin Graham or Dan Bongino sharing a mainstream news article with their partisan commentary as political? Or just content shared by organizations who do political work? Will corporate polluters be allowed to boost posts about energy policy while climate advocacy groups’ content is throttled? Facebook still treats the Daily Caller and Breitbart as verified news publishers, so will those far-right political sites be impacted the same way?
In an effort to try to quantify the impact of these moves, we pulled a list of some of the largest Facebook pages that consistently gain the most engagement on the platform and have the largest followings. (Note: We’ve excluded politicians from this list and included political media outlets)
This list clearly isn’t exhaustive, but there’s no question that Facebook is dominated by right wing accounts and commentary. In theory, that means reducing the flow of political content across the board could help stop the spread of harmful lies and misleading narratives from bad actors.
For instance, a quick search for White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Facebook pulls up posts not from the White House or the press corps, but from Ben Shapiro, Newsmax, Breitbart, the New York Post, Fox News, the Daily Caller, and other bad-faith commentators who have made her an immediate target in order to discredit her for… doing her job and doing it well.
While Marjorie Tweeter Greene’s reactionary social media use kicked off the latest GOP intraparty drama, digital Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez once again held a social media masterclass for fellow Democrats on the Hill this week, attempting to help her colleagues speak to their audiences in more direct + authentic ways. Here were a few of her hot takes, via Axios:
She encouraged members of Congress to use streaming video, including on Twitch, to speak to their constituents.
Dems should share receipts of accomplishments, not just policy positions.
Rapid response on sites like Twitter is Democrats’ biggest opportunity to improve and compete with Republicans.
BEFORE YOU GO…
That’s it for FWIW this week! Before you go, we have one more ask of you. As the Biden administration tries navigating a marketplace of ideas poisoned by extremist disinformation, we’re dedicated to keeping our friends and colleagues in the know about digital in this new era of American politics. If you’re one of the over 14,000 people who enjoy reading FWIW each week, give us a follow on Twitter, and help get out the word by forwarding this email to two friends who care about democracy + the digital strategies that influence it.