6 corporations own 90% of media outlets in the United States. The two most popular news websites, CNN and the New York Times boast over 50 million subscribers. The most popular news sites based on unique monthly visitors in 2018 and their news bias was:
- The New York Times (55.3 million, left)
- CNN (53.7 million, left)
- Fox News (46.6 million, right)
- The Washington Post (45.3 million, left)
- Business Insider (43.8, centrist)
- USA Today (40.6 million, centrist)
- The Huffington Post (40.1 million, left)
- MSN News (38.5 million, left)
- CBS News (34 million, left)
- Forbes (29.5 million, centrist)
The most visited American news websites, excluding social media platforms and aggregate news sites, based on Alexa rankings, are:
- CNN (owned by Warner Media, news leans left, opinion leans far left)
- New York Times (news leans left, opinion leans far left)
- Washington Post (owned by Jeff Bezos, news leans left, opinion leans far left)
- Yahoo News (owned by Verizon Communications, leans left)
- Forbes (centrist)
- Fox News (large share owned by Murdoch family, leans right, opinion leans far right)
- CNBC (owned by NBCUniversal, centrist, low confidence in centrist designation)
- Bloomberg (owned by Michael Bloomberg, centrist)
- Wall Street Journal (owned by Murdoch, news centrist, opinion leans right)
- Reuters (centrist news)
The most-watched news television stations in the United States during the first quarter of 2020 are:
1. Fox News (3.387 million viewers, right)
2. MSNBC (1.928 million viewers, leans hyper-left and partisan)
3. CNN (1.472 million viewers, left)
CNN leans as far left as Fox News leans far right. 67% of liberals trust CNN, while 65% of conservatives trust Fox News. 53% of liberals rely on CNN for political news, followed by:
2. NBC News (40%, leans left)
3. ABC News (37%, leans left)
4. CBS News (33%, leans left)
5. MSNBC (33%, left bias)
60% of conservatives rely on Fox News, followed by:
2. ABC News (30%)
3. NBC News (28%)
4. CBS News (26%)
5. CNN (24%, left bias)
Conservatives are more likely to follow news from liberal outlets than liberals are to follow news from conservative ones. Liberals are more than three times as likely to “de-friend” or “unfollow” someone on social media because of political views than conservatives.
The American companies with the largest market cap that specialize in content distribution are:
- AT&T/WarnerMedia, $278 billion market cap, owns CNN
- Verizon, $250 billion market cap, owns AOL (which owns HuffPost) and YahooNews
- Comcast, $198 billion market cap, owns NBCUniversal, which owns MSNBC, CNBC, and NBC.
The largest US content producers are:
- Disney. $267 billion market cap (owns ABC)
- Sony Pictures. $35 billion market cap
- Viacom, $23 billion market cap (owns CBS, MTV, BET, Paramount Pictures)
- Fox News, $22 billion market cap
49% of Americans primarily get their news via television, 33% from a news website or app, and 20% from social media.
22% of Americans use Twitter. 10% of Twitter users contribute 80% of all tweets. Twitter users are more likely to identify as liberal or Democrats, leading to a disproportionate number of Twitter users being liberal.
While 30% of Americans identify as Democrats, 36% of Twitter users identify as Democrats. While 52% of Americans lean or are Democrats, 60% of Twitter users are. Conversely, 26% of Americans identify as Republicans, while 21% of Twitter users identify as Republicans. While 43% of Americans lean or identify as Republicans, only 35% of Twitter users do.
71% of Twitter users primarily use Twitter for news. CNN Breaking News (57.7 million) has the 16th most followers on Twitter, Donald Trump (80.1 million) the 9th most, and Barak Obama (117.7 million) the most followers.
Reddit is the most visited website where users seek out news. 41% of Reddit users are liberal, 38% moderate, and 21% conservative. Reddit has been involved in controversy over censorship (r/WatchRedditDie), with mods frequently banning users or posts that violate political beliefs. 73% of Reddit users use the platform to access news, making Reddit the most popular platform among users whose main focus is accessing news.
A study of British social media users found that most Facebook users are more liberal than the British population. There are no studies on the political ideologies of American Facebook users.
In March 2018, the most followed and engaged with American news pages on Facebook were:
- CNN (36.3 million engagements)
- NBC (30.99 million engagements)
- Fox News (28.9 million engagements)
- New York Times (27.6 million engagements)
- HuffPost (24.3 million engagements)
The most liked US News Pages on Facebook as of June 12th, 2020:
1. CNN (33 million)
2. Fox News (18 million)
3. NYT (17 million)
4. ABC News (14 million)
5. Time (12 million, leans left)
6. NBC News (10 million)
7. HuffPost (10 million)
8. Washington Post (6.4 million)
Of the most liked pages among news publishers, only one leans right. 40% of adults get news from Facebook.
As of 2020, 223.03 Americans use Facebook.
Social Media Use
Democrats and liberals are more likely to be politically active on social media:
- 44% of liberal Democrats, 28% of moderate Democrats, and 27% of conservative Republicans “used social media to encourage others to take actions on issues important to them.”
- 35% of liberal Democrats, 15% of moderate Democrats, and 10% of conservative and moderate Republicans (20% total) looked up information about protests on social media.
- 20% of liberal Democrats and 7% of conservative Republicans used hashtags related to causes they support on social media.
- 86% of liberal Democrats and 53% of conservative Republicans believe social media is somewhat or very important “for creating long-lasting movements.”
Liberal Democrats are more likely to view social media as having a positive influence and less likely to view it as having a negative influence on political issues than conservative Republicans.
- 77% of liberal Democrats and 58% of conservative Republicans believe social media can highlight an issue that is not getting enough attention.
- 77% of liberal Democrats and 52% of conservative Republicans believe social media “helps give a voice to underrepresented groups.”
- 71% of liberal Democrats and 77% of conservative Republicans think social media can make people think they’re making a difference when they aren’t.
- 51% of liberal Democrats and 34% of conservative Republicans used social media to learn about the Presidential election in 2016.
Republicans (72%) are more likely than Democrats (51%) to expect news on social media to be inaccurate. 40% of Democrats and 24% of Republicans believe news on social media has improved understanding on a political topic. This could be explained by more social media users being liberal and liberal news sources having a substantially larger following and engagement rate than conservative
Confirmation bias and false consensus bias are two widely studied topics about how personal views can impede rational and logical decision making and influence behavior.
Confirmation bias “ is a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions, leading to statistical errors. Confirmation bias is a type of cognitive bias and represents an error of inductive inference toward confirmation of the hypothesis under study. Confirmation bias is a phenomenon wherein decision-makers have been shown to actively seek out and assign more weight to evidence that confirms their hypothesis, and ignore or underweigh evidence that could disconfirm their hypothesis. As such, it can be thought of as a form of selection bias in collecting evidence.”
“People have a tendency to interpret new information in a way that supports their pre-existing beliefs, a phenomenon known as confirmation bias. Now, researchers have shown that people will do the same thing even when the decision they’ve made pertains to a choice that is rather less consequential:
which direction a series of dots is moving and whether the average of a series of numbers is greater or less than 50.”
“False consensus is a form of social projection whereby individuals overestimate the degree to which others share their characteristics or beliefs.”
Implicit bias can demonstrate why individuals, especially liberals, are more likely to rely on content that shares their personal and political views.
Fact-Checking, Censorship, and a Free Society
So, what do all these statistics mean? Social media is more widely used among liberals and young Americans. The content on social media is driven by its users. Liberal news outlets are more followed and liked on social media than conservative ones.
The media, generally, leans left. While Fox News has a strong following, it pales when compared to the number of consumers of left-leaning and far left-leaning media outlets. The ownership of most news outlets by large corporations is equally concerning.
For example, Jeff Bezos owns Amazon and The Washington Post. Amazon’s revenue increased by 26% during the coronavirus lockdowns. The Washington Post has openly supported the coronavirus lockdowns. This raises concerns about how one billionaire can use a large media publication to push ideas that result in personal profit.
Overall, another concern is liberals are more likely to support platforms involving unity, social tolerance, anti-discrimination policies, and liberal social views. However, liberals are less likely to read sources from conservative publications and more likely to not only use social media but also to use social media to share political views. This limits critical thinking skills and discourages individuals from learning about other perspectives. Exposure to one ideology can lead to a herd mentality. Instead of making a decision about policy independently, individuals may allow their social circle and media sources to decide for them.
Conservatives rely on one major right outlet, which creates a significant conflict if Fox News releases inaccurate or false information. Since the media as a whole leans left, Fox News viewers more easily can be persuaded that factual errors in a Fox News story are false accusations. The lack of competition and diversity among conservative and right-leaning media outlets is a disservice, as it allows Fox News to essentially control conservative news. Conservatives who are more accurately categorized as classical liberals, libertarians, or are bottom right on the Political Compass have difficulty engaging with liberals in political discourse because Fox News has created a one-size-fits-all conservative platform.
For example, many conservatives are more socially liberal. However, individuals assume that supporting a free market and limited government automatically means you support President Trump and are pro-life and are against LGBT marriage rights. This can polarize conservatives, which has led to splits within the Republican Party, such as the Evangelical group (Arlen Specter, Mike Huckabee), neo-conservatives, and Tea Party.
This can create a public perception that causes consensus bias. If most social media users are supporting liberal positions, it can create a belief that the support for a cause on social media support is representative of the American population as a whole.
Additionally, pushing for social justice is admirable, but liberal Democrats are less likely to be tolerant of opposing political views and are more than 300% more likely to defriend or unfollow individuals on social media because of differences of political opinions. This demonstrates a cognitive dissonance: liberals value social justice and diversity yet are less tolerant of intellectual diversity or exposure to opposing political ideologies.
The media’s increasingly left-leaning bias once again creates the danger of consensus bias. If the media and social media platforms create the impression that a cause is popular, when supporters fail to achieve the political changes they support, it creates negative emotions, behaviors, and public intolerance. For example, The New York Times faced upheaval from staff over an op-ed by Tom Cotton supporting military intervention to assist local law enforcement, social media platforms overwhelmingly supported its retraction, as major media outlets like CNN were outraged that the article was published. However, 59% of voters support the use of military forces to assist local law enforcement.
Social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook, actively flagged and censored content during the 2020 fall election season. Whether the social media giants, who were testifying in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the weeks leading up to the election involving the censorship of a NY Post article, were acting in a biased or unfair manner requires an objective and fair fact-finding process. This requires being honest about the inherent bias of certain media outlets and the bias intrinsic in fact-checking processes used by social media conglomerates. Fact-checking ultimately requires human action, meaning that fact-finding is unable to be completely automated. This creates a valid concern because human error and inherent bias can be utilized to censor stories and content that is not false or inaccurate, but rather disagreeable.
Considering the market share Facebook and Twitter have in social media (71.85% global market share for Facebook, 8.65% for Twitter) means that if they want to implement fact-checking processes, it must be done fairly. The size of their platforms can create unfair competition. If the platform arbitrarily applies fact-checking procedures to Group A but not Group B, it can create an unfair competitive advantage. If both Group A and Group B run a content website and use Facebook and Twitter to generate traffic to their website, which in turn allows the owners to monetize their website, flagging Group B’s content but not Group A’s content can create an unfair competitive environment.
Fact-checking regularly relies too much on public statements and does not rely enough on actual evidence. For example, if a fact-checker must investigate if allegation A is correct, the fact-checker should not be relying on statements from the involved parties. The fact-checker should instead be relying on evidence. If fact-checking ultimately relies on statements absent evidence, the risk of bias is high. Since social media platforms and the mainstream media are liberally biased, the consequences very well could be the flagging and removal of more conservative views than liberal ones.
If fact-finding comes down solely to statements offered by involved parties, then no content truly could be flagged as false or misinformation. If the goal is to prevent the dissemination of false and misleading information, then the same standard should be applied to all content. An individual’s denial alone should not be the sole basis for a social media platform flagging content as false.
As finality occurs with the 2020 fall elections, an honest and objective review of social media and media outlets needs to occur. True capitalism opposes the monopolization of resources, power, and influence by corporations. And make no mistake: Mark Zuckerburg is a Captain of Industry focused on consolidating control of social media by destroying and consolidating competitors. The lack of competitors to Facebook and Twitter allow them to control too much about what can and can not be shared on social media. Since political candidates rely on engaging their voters and constituents via social media, we should ensure the same standards are applying to all candidates and political ideologies. If violent content is wrong, users should not be allowed to threaten violence regardless of who the target is.
A free society requires a space where individuals can share ideas, even if those ideas can be dangerous or offensive. The danger of only allowing pre-approved ideas to enter public space is that it erodes critical thinking, free speech, and diversity. Truth is deeply rooted in perspective, meaning fact-checking is deeply connected to the fact-checkers inherent biases and personal views. How someone decides if something is true likely differs from others in society. A lack of a clear and objective fact-checking standard risks the replacement of objectivity with consensus bias.
Since most social media users lean liberal, and social media companies profit based on the number of users it has (which impacts how much they can make on ads), it is logical to wonder if social media fact-checking is based more on appeasing their users and increasing their profits than a semantic quest for the truth.
A society can not be free if the truth is suppressed, censored, and concealed.