Politico

Facebook's anti-Trump news surge

Written by Lisa

Social media made Donald Trump president; now, it’s seeding a new industry of Facebook news pages dedicated to bringing him down.

The trove of new anti-Trump and left-leaning pages, many of which did not exist before November 8, are now nearly as popular on the social networking site as veteran publications that have been around for years.

News and Guts, a Facebook page created by former CBS anchorman Dan Rather less than two months ago, now has more than one million followers on Facebook, a nearly identical number to Capitol Hill newspaper The Hill, which was founded in 1994.

Rather told POLITICO that he views News and Guts as a news site, one beholden to facts, even if its take on President Donald Trump is a negative one.

“I think that part of the attraction of our news site is we try to be candid and direct,” Rather said. “We don’t spend much time debating ourselves about how to soften something or use a euphemism or even sophistry. I want to be as blunt as a punch in the nose.”

Two others, “Stand Up America” and “Donald Trump Is Not My President,” were created in the aftermath of the election, and now have close to one million and close to 500,000 followers, respectively. Another, the Democratic Coalition Against Trump, was founded in April 2016, and now has more than 250,000 followers.

These upstarts produce little original content, and in some cases barely come across as publications at all. Instead, they aggregate news stories that are often critical of Trump, adding piquant commentary that ensures maximum spread across Facebook.

For instance, Stand Up America wrote “Only an insecure and mean-spirited bully would pick on vulnerable students,” while linking to a BuzzFeed News article about Trump’s transgender students policy change.

“The energy and passion that we saw during the election still exists. Our goal is to tap into that and create something from that,” said Nate Lerner, executive director of the Democratic Coalition Against Trump. “If Mitt Romney had won [last year’s election], we wouldn’t be able to continue to campaign against him. Nobody would care.”

The anti-Trump pages bear some similarities to the right-wing news sites that powered Trump’s rise, in that they traffic in political anger and outrage, while providing news nuggets from across the web. For example, “Occupy Democrats,” which currently has 5.9 million followers, has been known to spread hyperbolic and misleading stories that do not hold up under fact-checkers’ scrutiny.

But many left-leaning Facebook pages are more scrupulous about the information that they share. Unlike right-wing news sites that tried to ignore stories from the mainstream media, left-leaning pages extensively link (and drive traffic) to reported news stories from mainstream outlets. Lerner told POLITICO that the Democratic Coalition Against Trump is careful to only share news from reliable sources like The New York Times, to avoid spreading fake news. News and Guts is staffed by professional journalists who try to fact-check and provide context for all of the news that it shares with its followers, even if the commentary attached to it is left-leaning in nature.

Some of the Facebook pages, in particular Rather’s, approach their work as a media organization would, while others, such as the Democratic Coalition, approach it as a political organizing tool.

Many of these sites, however, also view themselves as being much more bound to reality than their conservative counterparts.

“We have tried — others will have to judge how well or poorly we’ve done it — we have tried to emphasize context and perspective, particularly historical perspective,” said Rather. “It turns out there’s a real hunger for that.”

Meanwhile, some of the liberal Facebook pages, such as the Democratic Coalition Against Trump, are pursuing the agendas of their larger parent organizations. The Democratic Coalition Against Trump is a political action group that seeks to counter the president’s policies, and boost Democratic candidates. To that end, it encourages followers of its Facebook page to call their members of Congress, attaching contact information to the news stories it shares.

“We recently crossed the 35,000 mark on how many people had contacted Congress as a result of our Facebook posts,” said Chuck Westover, senior advisor and digital strategist for the Democratic Coalition Against Trump.

“We’re on Facebook because that’s where the people are. It’s what everyone goes to get their news,” Lerner added. “We aren’t just a Facebook page. There are other Facebook pages that just aggregate the news, but we do more than that. We’re an actual organization. We bring in people to the anti-Trump movement.”

If there is a media company that these pages seem to be channeling, it would be The Drudge Report, the news aggregation site founded by Matt Drudge, which first launched as a website in 1997.

While Drudge has broken some big stories over the years (the biggest of all being the story that brought the Monica Lewinsky scandal to light), his site is focused on cherry-picking interesting and relevant stories and linking out to them so readers can learn more. Drudge plucks them from obscure news sites and large publications alike, and his site has become one of the most influential digital news outlets because of his eye for news.

Drudge also brings an authentic, if controversial, conservative voice to his aggregation. That authenticity is key to the success of some of these new aggregators, such as News and Guts, as well.

“We depend on being authentic — authenticity builds credibility,” Rather said. “We’re trying hard not to be partisan, political or ideologically inclined. We don’t have an agenda. Basically, and I always preach about this, if you just tell the truth and point out the truth, then a certain people number of people are going to take that as being politically inclined one way or the other. We try to be as fair as we possibly can be. But we are — and without apology — we’re aggressive. We are not afraid, when something is true, we say it’s true.”

Rather, for his part, tends to write one piece per day on his own Facebook page, and contributed a couple of smaller items on the News and Guts page per day.

The success of the left-leaning Facebook pages is somewhat surprising because, by some measures, liberals concerned about Trump’s presidency seem to have embraced the mainstream media as their outlets of choice, powering a sustained increase in online subscriptions to The New York Times and other traditional news sites that present themselves as a corrective to opinion-generated “fake news.”

The new breed of Facebook pages view themselves in much the same way, which may help explain why they are so generous with their links to legacy media publications.

But media observers say there’s obviously room for more ideologically driven coverage on the left, as well.

“The New York Times might cover Trump critically, but it still provides a reasonable level of balance overall,” said Liam Corcoran, head of communication at NewsWhip, which tracks audience engagement. “If you’re doing away with that, no-holds-barred, it probably does make it easier to break through in terms of engagement.”

The success of these Facebook pages seems to bear that out: the more authentic the commentary on these pages seems, the more successful they are.

For example, News and Guts linked to a column by Jack Shafer in POLITICO Magazine earlier this week. The post garnered nearly 50,000 likes and more than 2,000 comments on the News and Guts Facebook page, thanks in part to the commentary attached to it.

“YO, REPORTERS … THIS ISN’T ABOUT YOU. Just do your job. That’s our message to journalists covering Donald Trump,” the post said. “Don’t get sucked in or suckered in to the ‘media is ruining our lives’ bs. Don’t apologize and don’t back down. Be immensely proud of what you do because, in the end, it will most likely be your work that saves this nation.”

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