By likes, comments, shares, and reactions, Facebook-owned Crowdtangle cites Dan Bongino, Ben Shapiro, David Harris Jr., Franklin Graham, and Blue Lives Matter as some of the most successful pages on the social-media platform. In a recent Politico article, an anonymous Facebook executive tried to explain why:
“Right-wing populism is always more engaging,” a Facebook executive said in a recent interview with POLITICO reporters, when pressed why the pages of conservatives drive such high interactions. The person said the content speaks to “an incredibly strong, primitive emotion” by touching on such topics as “nation, protection, the other, anger, fear.”
“That was there in the 30’s. That’s not invented by social media — you just see those reflexes mirrored in social media, they’re not created by social media,” the executive added. “It’s why tabloids do better than the [Financial Times], and it’s also a human thing. People respond to engaging emotion much more than they do to, you know, dry coverage. . . . This wasn’t invented 15 years ago when Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook.”
On the eve of Election Day, social media has become a topic of heated debate. Many on the right complain of Big Tech’s overreach in censoring conservative voices, while progressives fret over “misinformation” shared on Twitter and Facebook. One thing both sides can agree on is that digital activism has become a powerful political tool.
David Bozell is the president of ForAmerica, a nonprofit organization that promotes conservatism through original and aggregated social-media content. He says that the story of the Right’s digital messaging begins in 2008. Like many others across the spectrum, he believes that the Obama campaign was the first to recognize social media’s potential. Its innovation and success, he says, galvanized conservatives. “It’s not so much that conservatives use Facebook more. You gotta’ look back at 2008, when Obama used Facebook in particular with weapons-grade precision. Conservatives immediately understood that we needed to plant the conservative flag on the most popular, widely used communication vehicle in the world.”
“We had a hunch we would find that there were conservatives on the platform who just weren’t being talked to or mobilized in any real, orchestrated way,” he adds.
Since 2010, ForAmerica has tallied an average of 108 million video views and 83 million engagements (likes, comments, shares, etc.) per year. It reaches an audience of 19 million people per week, making it, by all metrics, the most engaged conservative page in Facebook’s history. Bozell attributes much of this success to a simple but effective strategy. “We try to hit three different messaging buckets,” he says. “We want to educate, we want to inspire, and we want to entertain. And we want to use an article, a meme, or a video to do one of those three to advance conservatism.”
ForAmerica tailors its messaging to a predominantly older, female demographic. “Women vote more prolifically than men. Women engage in social media more than men. Women are increasingly in charge of the family checkbook more than men,” Bozell says. “Arguably, depending on which battleground state you’re looking at, women are generally regarded as the most important demographic in these races.”
The pictures, videos, and memes — or “popular communication tools,” as Bozell calls them — blend culture and politics. Some reference Star Trek or the Indiana Jones movies; others feature famous bands. But while the image or the meme may be glitzy and lighthearted, the underlying issue it addresses tends to be contentious. “Immigration has always been up near the top of the list, and health care, too, because it affects everybody,” Bozell says. “Now, obviously, the Supreme Court is going to be a big deal.”
While proud of ForAmerica’s success, Bozell is skeptical of the idea that conservatives have gained traction on platforms such as Facebook because their message is “right-wing populist,” steeped in themes that were riffed on during the Weimar Republic. For him, engagement is driven not by fear but by humor, wit, and an appreciation for irony.
“Why do conservatives see more success than liberals on Facebook? Just flatly, I think we’re funnier. We like to laugh, and we like to engage in this type of activism from our couch,” he says. “Goofing on the other side — it is fun.”
That said, ForAmerica’s means may be lighthearted, but its ends are not. It is still a fundamentally political operation, laser-focused on getting President Trump over the finish line this November. Ultimately, Bozell says, “We are trying to win.”