It took just hours after the surprise result of the 2016 presidential election for the Facebook narrative to turn sour. Technologists, researchers, and the media quickly drew a connection between 2016’s sharp increase in ideological division, fake news, and harassment and the mammoth social network. In the ensuing months, discussion about Facebook’s culpability in everything from misinformation and election meddling to illicit harvesting of user data has erupted in a full-fledged media backlash.
New sentiment analysis data provided to BuzzFeed News puts that backlash in stark relief: In the aftermath of the 2016 election, media coverage of Facebook turned negative almost overnight. And it has largely stayed that way.
Using publicly available information pulled from the APIs of USA Today, the New York Times, the Guardian, and BuzzFeed, researcher Joe Hovde compiled over 87,000 articles about Facebook published by the four outlets between 2006 and 2018. Then he ran a sentiment analysis on them, scoring words on a positive-to-negative scale of -5 to +5 — for example, a negative word like “fake” was scored -3, while a more positive word like “growth” was scored +2. The results were grim.