| Akron Beacon Journal
Political content is driving users away from Facebook when they don’t agree with it, a new study co-authored by a University of Akron researcher shows.
Assistant professor of marketing Alexa K. Fox said the study shows platforms like Facebook have a choice that users need to recognize: They can continue to show users only content that will make them stay on the site, or they can risk losing users.
“This unwanted brand and political content really might drive users away,” Fox said. “And Facebook really has to kind of decide, are we going to attempt to appease our users, or are we going to think about ways to maybe provide more unbiased perspectives, despite what people maybe think they want to hear?”
As the country is weeks away from Election Day, it may come as no surprise that social media platforms are filled to the brim with political content — and that some people may want a break from that.
But the study looked at a two-year period, 2017-18, to examine why, 15 years into Facebook’s existence, people might be changing their habits with the site. In particular, why are some leaving?
Political content, especially when it did not align with a user’s views, was the strongest reason, Fox said.
“Brand-related content and political content ended up coming up as the source of angst for Facebook users,” she said.
That could be helpful information for companies who are searching for the best way to reach new customers, Fox said. They may often seek people not affiliated with the company to help promote the brand, but this new research shows people may be turned off by that content, she said.
“Even when it’s other users who are generating this content, maybe it’s not necessarily going to be well-received,” Fox said.
Mark J. Pelletier of the University of North Carolina Wilmington and Alisha Blakeney Horky of Columbus State University co-authored the study with Fox.
The research paper, published in the Journal of Business Research, is titled “Fexit: The effect of political and promotional communication from friends and family on Facebook exiting intentions,” with “Fexit” being a play on “Facebook exit.”
“After the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Facebook users described feeling exhausted by the news, being overwhelmed by negativity from Facebook connections on both sides of the political spectrum and having a desire to be more connected to the non-virtual world,” the research paper said.
“But while the 2016 election might have been the breaking point for many, consumers were altering their interactions with Facebook long before, increasingly sharing content created by other influential users and news items from external sources and posting less personal information.”
Critics of Facebook have long lamented how the social media giant tailors content to users based on what they have engaged with before.
It can mean people of one side of the political spectrum hear only one side of the conversation. For Facebook as a company, Fox said, that can be enticing because users may be more willing to come back to the site.
“If they’re trying to protect their users and say, ‘We don’t want you to get frustrated with Facebook so we want to try to put the content on that you want to see,’ they also need to be transparent about the fact that that may not be an unbiased perspective,” Fox said. “It’s been tailored based on the content you want to see.”
Contact education reporter Jennifer Pignolet at [email protected], at 330-996-3216 or on Twitter @JenPignolet.