Saturday, 22 January 2011

Totally Straighforward Edits on Barack Obama's Facebook Page

Having spent some time a couple weeks ago taking a close look at Sarah Palin's Facebook page, I thought it was only fair, for the record, to go through the same exercise with President Obama's page. After all, I had been working on the assumption that his page was in fact not being edited to remove negative comments based on my impression that I had seen a pretty wide range of comments there from various perspectives. But on reflection I realised that it wasn't sure how the mechanics of his page moderation were operating. So, here's what I found, based on a sample that was taken last week. [Note, I wasn't able to write up this post last week because I was running late for a film - note the Curzon cinemas tab in the background. We saw The King's Speech. Yes, it was great, thanks for asking!]

When I first went to the page I was struck by the much higher ratio of positive to negative comments. Still I didn't have to look hard to find some criticism -

Here's the aptly named Betsy Bitter demanding 4 times in sequence that we "Repeal Obamacare!"

You can see that these comments have been on the page for over an hour by this point.

Next up, we have a couple of posts that seem to be straightforward spam - one selling some sort of weight loss product and one inviting people to click his link so that he can earn money for each click. Please, dear readers, do me a favour and don't do this. Thank you.

Although these are not negative comments or criticism, I'm pointing them out because these are exactly the sort of comments that a reputable page owner might well moderate to remove - after all, the page does not exist to allow others to market commercial products under the President's name. If I were advising a client on the moderation policy for this page, I might have suggested the routine removal of such spam, not least for the protection of page users. But that clearly isn't the policy here.


Hmm... can't help but think that with their shared enthusiasm for being "left alone" by the US Government, perhaps this person might find unlikely common ground with the Tea Party...

But in any case - this comment was posted 7 hours before.

Here's a man in a cowboy hat posting two sequential criticisms saying, respectively:




I'm not completely sure what this gentleman is on about, but I don't think he's a fan.

In any case, it seems clear that there are criticisms of President Obama on the page, but not many. In fact, there aren't many posts at all - when I first looked at the page the most recent post had been published 15 minutes before.

At this point, though, I started to notice how frequently I was seeing multiple identical versions of the same post - both those that were critical of the President, and those that praised him seem frequently to have been posted repeatedly.

Putting these factors together, I started to wonder if possibly the Obama team was pre-moderating comments. Pre-moderation, means reviewing comments before they are posted so that you make an active decision to make them live, as compared to post-moderation, in which you review content after it has been posted to remove objectionable posts. That could explain the duplicate posts, as if people don't see their content go live immediately sometimes they keep trying.

So I decided to post a comment - a relatively neutral one - just to see if it would go live immediately. It did.

So there it is. Far from finding heavy-handed moderation, I couldn't actually discover any evidence that Barack's page was being moderated at all.

This is not necessarily a good thing. There is content that should - even must - be removed in compliance with Facebook's own policies. There is content that contains violent and offensive language that a page owner may well decide goes too far for his or her comfort. And as discussed, it is often a useful service for your readers to remove spam.

But the thing that disturbed me the most about the President's page is its comparative quietness. When I conducted the same exercise for Sarah Palin's page, it was virtually impossible to even keep track of the speed with which new posts were added (and, of course, often removed). But she's responsible to no constituents, holds no elected office, she is the formulator of no policies, achiever of no legislative accomplishments... at the moment, she's a TV star.

Barack Obama, on the other hand, is President of the United States, had just given one of the most widely praised speeches of his career, is preparing for his forthcoming State of the Union address, and recently signed a raft of high-impact legislation - from repealling Don't Ask Don't Tell to ratifying the START treaty. But on his Facebook page? Crickets are chirping.

Is it possible we enjoy the sensation of being angry and polarised more than the prospect of unity and accomplishment? And if so, is that the fault of our leaders for not engaging us... or us for being too easily distracted?


Jim Jepps said...

Thanks for doing this - very interesting.

One possible reason for the difference is the way we use facebook. It's for more trivial interactions.

No one in their right mind thinks the President looks at his facebook page or cares what's on it. He's a substantial political figure.

Palin however is something different. The very fact you point to, that she has no formal power, is probably the reason people are more likely to use facebook to try to interact with 'her' than with the President.

Well, it's a working theory anyway.

Obama London said...

Thanks Jim - yes, that is a good point. Palin's Facebook is actually one of the only ways that she makes "herself" available in any kind of interactive way to the public, so perhaps it's not surprising that people are driven there. And, of course, the President also has a White House Facebook page, which is technically covering the whole branch of government, but is of course dominated by the President's activities.

Still, I also suspect there's an element of car crash rubber necking with Palin - and it's a regrettable human impulse that we're drawn to look at things we find disturbing but find comparatively dull many things that affect us deeply. I know this from personal experience, because I struggle to care about tax policy, for instance, even though I know it's REALLY IMPORTANT. ;)

Ignia said...

lol; indeed. I find myself riveted to the car crash that is our legislative branch at the moment.

Btw, has anyone heard anything one way or the other about the filibuster reform in the Senate? I haven't been able to find any current information on it. :(

JoelBlogsJoel said...

Really interesting post, I'm glad you have the integrity to do the same thing you did with Obama as you did with Palin, also that you are even a little critical.
That being said, I think the lack of interaction on Obama's page is more of a testament to the man and a detriment to Palin. Obama, and his staff, are running a country and recognize how utterly insignificant a facebook page is. Facebook is supposed to be a social network, not an advertising device, and if people don't quit using it for that purpose, it will ultimately go the way of MySpace. Palin uses facebook not to discuss issues or help people, she uses it to enhance his celebrity.
I, personally, am glad Obama has no time for a trivial thing like facebook, it shows that he is worrying about things that matter.

COmtnLady said...

"Is it possible we enjoy the sensation of being angry and polarised more than the prospect of unity and accomplishment?"

I think there is a lot of rabble-rousing going on from sources with vested interests. With most of the radio airwaves (in the USA) owned by conservatives and the equal time laws having been abrogated, an awful lot of people are getting extreme opinions and inaccurate propaganda. There is little "fair and balanced" other side heard or seen here anymore. And there are whole areas of the Country where there are zero liberal radio programs available.
Even friends whom I consider to be highly intelligent believe the Right-Wing emails they forward to me. I usually look up the actual law/bill or story and explain where their info is highly biased and sometimes downright lies - which only angers them at me due to their negative info being reinforced by Right-Wing TV shows and radio programs...and developmentally disadvantaged beauty queens.

Thanks for assessing the various FB blogs. Some of it makes my stomach clench.


christine said...

I only wish people would realize they have to heal themselves. All this anger is just a reflection of ourselves...not Obama, not Palin.

That said the same type of energy attracts to similar energy. Positive/Positive v Negative/Negative. Sure its not an exclusive rule but I think its something to think about.

Obama London said...

Thanks all. Many good points made.

I'm not sure I agree with the general sentiment that what happens on a Facebook page is by definition trivial - I think it depends on what you do with it. It's possible to be deadly serious and use Facebook as a forum to organise and promote action. It's also possible to use it to consolidate anger against a brand or person.

In Palin's case, she uses it to "preach to the choir". In Obama's, he's trying to tell push out information. I don't think either have really tried to use it to its full potential as a tool of engagement. Both have their own reasons for this - in Obama's case, he has other, more proven engagement tools in his hands - most notably Organizing for America with its robust activist database allowing for more targetted communications than the Facebook page. In Palin's case... well, suffice to say it does not look like she's trying to consolidate support in the way she would need to for a Presidential bid.

Jim Jepps said...

It's not that I think it is by definition trivial (although in general it is not as substantial as a town hall meeting or community campaign) but that people regard it as trivial.

Essentially that the sort of person who thinks a good way of communicating a national political via facebook may not take politics as seriously as others who may try other ways of relating to them.

If wanted to complain to my local hospital for treatment that left me worse than when i went in I wouldn't leave a message on thier facebook page. If I saw a band and it was a bit rubbish I might use facebook to go - "that was pants!"

polka dot said...

Fascinating exercise.

I've just realised that while I must have 'liked' President Obama's facebook page, I haven't been to it in a long time - if ever (OR, Sarah Palin's). But part of why I don't is he - along with VP Biden, and assorted staff - stay in touch with me via email. Not me personally, of course - but I'm on their mailing list, and I read a lot of what they send - or at least scan it quickly when it arrives.

One possible reason why Sarah Palin gets more comments more frequently on her fb page - and this is my theory, mind you, and I have no proof - might have to do with squeaky wheels, and grease.

There isn't a day that goes by when I don't thank God that Barack Obama and Joe Biden won the election. I can't even imagine a world in which Sarah Palin was VP: to quote Tina Fey, if she won, I'd have left Earth.

Obama London said...

Polka Dot: Amen to that. I remain proud that Barack continues quietly and calmly do what he promised he'd do in 2008. He doesn't always get everything he wants, but he has already achieved so much more than what many thought possible. I'm quietly and calmly grateful.

denelian said...

6ish weeks later...
just found your blog, and i'll be hanging around, reading other posts, etc, but i wanted to comment on this. or, rather, a specific point that i think sort of slipped past [or maybe i'm the only one who'd see it this was? that's an even MORE depressing thought]:

if Life were actually High School, Palin is the Head Cheerleader, while Obama is more like the Chess Club President who also happens to be ok at sports - a nerd without being bullied. [if that makes sense]*
or, Palin is the "Untouchable" sort of popular - everyone knows who she is, many people "want to be her" [rather, want the advantages she has], but have no real hope of anything resembling meaningful contact. she's the Queen Bee, and only people of her "sort" are allowed to breath the same air.
Wheras Obama is that guy everyone knows. they may not really think about that fact that they know him, and so does everyone else - but when it comes to it, EVERYONE knows him - they know his name, what he does, what he likes, what he wants, that he'll help with X project but doesn't like Y project, and in general he's unoffensive and isn't going to throw a fit that one "dared" to speak to him, isn't going to automatically look down on whoever is speaking to him, because they aren't as COOL.

so people don't NEED to go to Obama's FB - they have other ways of contacting him, and that contact can be meaningful [even if it IS third hand]. but Palin is the unapproachable ice princess; there's NO way to really contact her, and if even there was, most people KNOW that she'd be bitchy, presuming she deigned to respond at all. so throwing crap at her FB is the ONLY way to have any sort of communication with her, it's automatically going to be crap communication, and so they only offer what they know they'd recieve if they DID somehow manage to actually engage her in real discourse.

and the fact that i CAN successfully describe my nation's Top Leader and Top Rival [not to mention that she *IS* the Top Rival, that's the SADDEST indictment of all her. oh, for Britain's tradition of "Opposition" that's actually USEFUL!] is so incredibly disheartening that i just want to weep. or move to Scandanavia. even the poorest of Scandanavian countries is a HUGE amount better than here, anymore. sigh.

*[i'm ignoring the "isms" that permeate around both - the chauvanism and misogynism towards Palin, the racism and accusations of elitism against Obama - and in Obama's case, most of the hatred aimed at him is at least partly a product of racism, disdain for "the elite", or both]

Anonymous said...

I think the comment of Palin is the "Untouchable" is totally wrong since Facebook is a social network. I would give obama that attribute rather if we are still in the context of FB. and by obama having other means of communication, I guess is his RIGHT as is other people's rights. Palin has also other means of communications : Sarah Pac,Twitter to name a few. There are numerous blogs that also spread her real records such as Conservatives for Palin, The truth etc.

Obama London said...

Hi Denelian - Thanks for a very interesting analysis.

There is much in what you say about Obama's relative approachability. For instance, the Obama family have made a conscious effort to open up the White House more and to have more public events, be more involved in local community stuff in DC, etc. Palin by contrast makes a virtue of her perceived inaccessibility.

But I think for me, what I find worrying about Palin, and encouraging about Obama in general is precisely that I do think it is possible to define Sarah Palin in very high school terminology. "Mean girl", ice princess, whatever.

Obama, on the other hand, seems like a grown up to me. Much more confident, self assured, lacking in the demand for approval that seems to characterise Palin. And I bet he did when he was in high school, too.

denelian said...


but you AREN'T getting Palin on FB - it's like you're voting for homecoming queen - she doesn't care who you are so long as you vote for her.

OLondon; that's a REALLY good point. he IS a grown up. maybe he's more like a favored teacher, in my high-school American lol.
but, yeah - Palin scares me. a lot. we may hate those cheerleaders [or whatever] while we're in high school, but we really do expect that, in a decade, it's not going to matter. we'll have grown up, things will be DIFFERENT.

Palin never grew up. and she keeps being rewared for being immature and thoughtless. very frightening...

Anonymous said...

Ah, 'the man wearing the cowboyhat', every Sarah Palin hater on Facebook knows who he is. Mr. J. Waltemeyer, he posts frequently on the anti- Sarah Palin pages on Facebook. Obviously not because he's a big fan of Obama.

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