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What’s Trending? Judge Jackson and Transgender Athletes
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What’s Trending? Judge Jackson and Transgender Athletes

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This piece was originally published in the March 25, 2022 edition of CAP Action’s weekly newsletter, What’s Trending? Subscribe to What’s Trending? here.

Hey, y’all.

This week, our team examined the social media performance of posts about Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination hearings and the online conversation about transgender athlete Lia Thomas’ victory in the NCAA Divison I 500-yard freestyle.

Read on to learn more.

What’s trending this week

  • Russia-Ukraine conflict: While many believe that Ukraine is winning the online information war in the United States, that is not necessarily the case within Russia or in other countries, such as China and India, where online journalists and writers are more critical of Ukraine.
  • Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson: Judge Jackson’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court is widely supported, yet several Republican senators are trying to drive a false narrative about her issuing “light sentences” to child sex offenders. This narrative has taken off with QAnon supporters, despite being widely discredited.

What we’re hearing on social

Progressive- and conservative-leaning pages split the top 10 posts of the week, an increase for conservative pages from the previous two weeks. The top post overall was from Coffee Party USA, a left-leaning pro-democracy page, which featured an image of sidewalk art praising Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The post received 740,000 interactions, more than double the next post, including 160,000 shares—the highest total for any political page in March so far, according to NewsWhip.

Progressive pages and audiences continued their focus on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with five of the top 10 posts referencing the conflict and highlighting the strength of the people of Ukraine and President Zelensky in particular. Other topics included Judge Jackson’s composure and competence in the face of conservative attacks during her confirmation hearings, the rising price of gas and overreliance on cars, and the unaffordability of homeownership for younger generations.

This week, top posts from conservative pages focused almost exclusively on Lia Thomas, the first trans woman to win a title at an NCAA swimming championship, with seven of 10 posts referencing the event. Those pages included Ben Shapiro, Breitbart, podcast host Ben Ferguson, and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), who issued a proclamation declaring second-place finisher Emma Weyant the winner, despite the event not taking place in Florida. The only post of the top 10 that referenced Ukraine at all was from Candace Owens, which identified wars as “government-run money laundering operations,” connected the United States’ actions against Russian aggression to Black Lives Matter and COVID-19, and blamed the media for “telling you to hate Russians.” The post received more than 100,000 interactions.

Bar graph showing the top posts of the week.

 

Top 10 best-performing progressive and conservative Facebook posts by interactions, according to data from NewsWhip

Chart of top political Facebook posts for the past two weeks

Top 10 political Facebook posts by interactions for the weeks of March 10-16 and March 17-23, according to data from NewsWhip

Chart of Top 10 Facebook posts from progressive pages over the last week, according to data from NewsWhip

Top 10 Facebook posts from progressive pages over the last week, according to data from NewsWhip

Top ten Facebook posts from conservative pages over the last week, according to data from NewsWhip

Top ten Facebook posts from conservative pages over the last week, according to data from NewsWhip

Deep dive

Interactions with posts referencing the Russia-Ukraine conflict declined this week from more than 4 million interactions in a day on March 16 to fewer than 2 million on March 22, fueled by a decrease in the number of posts referencing the topic and in average interactions per post. Interactions with posts referencing gas or oil also decreased slightly.

Engagement with posts referencing Judge Jackson grew steadily over the first three days of her confirmation hearings, from 800,000 interactions on Monday to over 1.6 million on Wednesday. We’d expect those numbers to taper off as the hearings conclude on Thursday, with a lull before the final confirmation vote, which is expected by the Easter recess.

Total Facebook interactions for posts referencing topic keywords, according to data from NewsWhip (U.S. pages only)

Total Facebook interactions for posts referencing topic keywords, according to data from NewsWhip (U.S. pages only)

Posts referencing transgender athletes saw a significant spike over the last week, generating 1.3 million interactions on March 18, the day of Lia Thomas’ victory, and 2 million interactions on March 22, the day Governor DeSantis made his proclamation and Governor Spencer Cox of Utah vetoed a bill banning transgender athletes from competing in women’s high school sports. 

The topic of transgender athletes had the fewest posts of any of the topics we examined, but the highest number of average interactions per post—indicative of how a small network of conservative pages with highly-engaged followings pushed it. The energy that conservative Facebook pages are devoting to a relatively niche news story, especially during an ongoing international war and a Supreme Court nomination, is a noteworthy sign of their commitment to cultural wedge issues.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.

Authors

Alex Witt

Senior Director, Strategic Partnerships

Explore The Series

Welcome to “What's Trending?”, a weekly newsletter to help progressives answer the age-old questions: What works, and what doesn't? “What's Trending?” cuts through the noise to bring you the best (and worst) of what's happening on social media in the policy space, and explains why it's important.

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