Breaking (the) News: Liking and Sharing Behaviour on Facebook Pages of German Newspapers

This just in!

Thanks to the Internet, newspaper are critically endangered. That’s why many publisher more and more rely  on a solid Internet presence. In times of social networks, all major newspapers additionally have their own Facebook fanpage to advertise their newspaper and/or inform the people directly via status posts. These status posts are what we will analyze in today’s blog entry.
Our goal is to examine how certain news sources are perceived by Facebook users and how they interact with the Facebook pages.

We will investigate four major news sources of Germany, namely the “Bild Zeitung”, “TAZ”, “Die Welt” and “Tagesschau”. While the first three are printed media, the fourth one are the traditional 8PM news on the first German channel. TAZ, Welt and Tagesschau can be considered as serious news sources without any sensational incentives. Bild, on the other hand, is without a doubt part of tabloid journalism with stories about VIPs no one cares about and sensational headlines (“Wir sind Papst”).

I scraped all status posts from the respective Facebook page between January 2013 to August 2015, including the number of likes and shares the posts received. As always, I had to rely on some brain from the Internet to write the code for the scraping.  I found the code in a blog post explaining in detail how to obtain posts from Facebook pages.

Before analyzing the Shares and Likes of posts, we take a look at the number of followers.


The differences are astonishing. The three serious newspapers together do not nearly have as many followers as Bild. But honestly, I expected something like that.

The next two things we look at, are the accumulated number of Likes and Shares of status posts per month per news source.


Bild clearly dominates in both categories. The most interesting part of both figures are the bumps of Bild in  June and July 2014. I expect them to be due to the world cup in soccer (as a reminder, Germany won!). A world cup victory clearly is a solid base for some sensational posts the general public will definitely like and share. Note that we do not observe these bumps for the serious news sources. Although Tageschau has more than twice as many followers as TAZ, the status posts of both are liked and shared quite similar.

This results might be a bit misleading. The number of followers is highly skewed towards Bild, such that the probability that more people like or share a status post is higher than for the other sources.
We can correct for this bias by assigning weights to the number of likes and shares a post received.
The number of likes on Bild posts are all weighted with 1. The weights for the other sources depend on the difference of followers between them and Bild. For example, The weight  of 1 Like on a status post of TAZ  is equal to #followers of Bild/#followers of TAZ=10.21. Basically, a Like on a TAZ status is worth 10.2 Likes on a Bild post.

If we take these weights into account we obtain the following result for the number of Likes.

Bild still receives the highest amount of Likes, but the difference is much lower than before. Especially TAZ and Welt seem to have an increasing trend in Likes this year and might soon be on the level of Bild.

How about the Shares?

Now this looks rather peculiar. There are several bumps for TAZ which I can not really explain. I looked into the data a bit and it seems that there are several posts of TAZ that somehow went viral, like this one in February 2014 and this one in March 2015.  Overall, it seems that TAZ and Welt posts get shared more often then Bild posts.

What could be the explanation for the differences in Liking and Sharing behaviour between Bild statuses and TAZ/Welt/Tagesschau statuses ? From my point of view, this has to do with TAZ and Welt being serious sources and Bild being sensational. If Welt and TAZ posts contain important news and followers are eager to share these posts to inform their friends about recent events. For sensational posts on the other hand, I assume that followers tend to just like it since sensational news do not contain valuable information that are share-worthy.

In summary, people like sensational news and share the serious.

Posted in: Data Analysis

Written by Dmathlete