The Hidden Public Square [...]

For now, the network hums along, mostly beneath the surface. A post from a Liberty Alliance page might find its way in front of a left-leaning user who might disagree with it or find it offensive, and who might choose to engage with the friend who posted it directly. But otherwise, such news exists primarily within the feeds of the already converted, its authorship obscured, its provenance unclear, its veracity questionable. It’s an environment that’s at best indifferent and at worst hostile to traditional media brands; but for this new breed of page operator, it’s mostly upside. In front of largely hidden and utterly sympathetic audiences, incredible narratives can take shape, before emerging, mostly formed, into the national discourse.

Consider the trajectory of a post from August, from a Facebook page called Patriotic Folks, the headline of which read, “Spread This: Media Rigging the Polls, Hiding New Evidence Proving Trump Is Winning.” The article cited a litany of social-media statistics highlighting Trump’s superior engagement numbers, among them Trump’s Facebook following, which is nearly twice as large as Clinton’s. “Don’t listen to the lying media — the only legitimate attack they have left is Trump’s poll numbers,” it said. “Social media proves the GOP nominee has strong foundation and a firm backing.” The story spread across this right-wing Facebook ecosystem, eventually finding its way to Breitbart and finally to Sean Hannity’s “Morning Minute,” where he read through the statistics to his audience.

Before Hannity signed off, he posed a question: “So, does that mean anything?” It’s a version of the question that everyone wants to answer about Facebook and politics, which is whether the site’s churning political warfare is actually changing minds — or, for that matter, beginning to change the political discourse as a whole. How much of what happens on the platform is a reflection of a political mood and widely held beliefs, simply captured in a new medium, and how much of it might be created, or intensified, by the environment it provides? What is Facebook doing to our politics? (Source)

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