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What’s Trending? Unions, Masks, and Elon Musk

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This piece was originally published in the April 22, 2022 edition of CAP Action’s weekly newsletter, What’s Trending? Subscribe to What’s Trending? here.

Hey, y’all.

I have some bittersweet news: Today is my last day at CAP Action and my final edition of “What’s Trending?

Sharing these insights with you all has been a highlight of my career, and while I’m sad to move on, I’m excited to introduce you to our new “What’s Trending?” lead, CAP Action Director of Analytics Eric Coffin-Gould. Eric has been the brains behind this operation for a while now, and I’m excited to see what he does with our little newsletter. Never fear, though; while the format may change, the insights will remain the same.

With that, in case you missed it, check out our April 8 edition of “What’s Trending?

What’s trending this week

What we’re hearing on social

Progressive pages made up the majority of the top political posts over the past 14 days, occupying 9 out of 10 spots each week. Causes.com continues to be an oddly well-performing page, taking the top spot each week. And 3 of the top 10posts for the week of April 7–13 were celebrations of the confirmation of Judge Ketanj Brown Jackson, from the pages of Barack Obama, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and President Joe Biden.

In the past week, each top progressive post included a photo, although they touched on a wide variety of themes. Posts from Michelle Obama and Barack Obama celebrated Easter. A post from Occupy Democrats celebrated the accomplishments of Black women, including Kamala Harris and Ketanji Brown Jackson. And The Other 98% had 6 of the top 10 posts, covering themes ranging from supporting teachers to praising AriZona iced tea’s principle of not raising prices on consumers. Four of those posts actually originated on other popular Facebook pages, demonstrating the value of cross-amplifying content to new audiences.

Top posts from conservative pages in the past week also covered a wide range of topics, but two in particular stuck out. Ben Shapiro had three top posts covering Elon Musk’s attempted purchase of Twitter, which we’ll dive into more in the next section. And Candace Owens had multiple posts celebrating the end of mask mandates on public transportation—one implied that those who wished to wear masks had a “mental disorder, and the other called for the “punishment” of the CDC for harming children with mask mandates. Protecting children has been a common theme across a range of conservative attacks in recent months, and it’s worth noting the invocation by Owens here.

Deep dive

The most-engaged topics in our panel over the past two weeks continued to be Ukraine (more than 16 million interactions) and President Biden (more than 15 million interactions). Each topic was referenced in roughly 30,000 posts from Facebook pages in the United States—an extremely high volume. The only topic that’s referenced more frequently is COVID-19, which appeared in more than 50,000 posts but generated many fewer interactions overall.

But the highest single-day interactions total belonged to Elon Musk on April 14, when his offer to buy Twitter outright (after his initial 9 percent investment) led headlines across the internet. The move generated 3.6 million interactions on Facebook posts, with the most-engaged posts coming almost exclusively from conservative figures such as Joe Rogan, Tucker Carlson, and Dan Crenshaw, in addition to Shapiro and Dan Bongino.

Engagement on posts related to Musk is sky-high. In contrast to high-volume topics such as Ukraine, Biden, and COVID-19, there were only 8,000 posts related to Musk in the past two weeks—but they generated 1,350 interactions per post on average, more than twice as much as posts referencing President Biden and 60 percent higher than any other topic in our panel. 

The combination of Elon Musk’s celebrity appeal and his increasing outspokenness on core conservative issues such as “cancel culture” has made him a galvanizing force for the right wing. While we don’t know if this Twitter takeover will ultimately be successful or just end up a publicity stunt, it’s always worth watching when a high-profile figure gets this much attention and amplification from a conservative audience.

Thanks for reading,

Alex and Eric

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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