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Facebook audit: COVID-19 vaccine messaging among KC-area political leaders largely absent

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Missouri has made national headlines as the COVID-19 delta variant fuels a surge in predominantly rural and predominantly unvaccinated areas of the state.

The highly contagious delta variant, which is responsible for a surge in hospitalizations across the state, was first detected in Missouri on May 11 in Branson through the Missouri Sewershed Surveillance Project, according to Jeff Wenzel, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services’ Bureau of Environmental Epidemiology Bureau Chief. It began being regularly detected June 7 in the Kansas City area.

Even as cases began to climb in some northern Missouri counties and the delta variant rapidly spreads across southwest Missouri and into central Missouri, the DHSS didn’t issue its first public warning until June 16, shortly after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officially labeled delta as a variant of concern.

Based on an audit of Facebook posts from local, state and congressional leaders in Kansas and Missouri, ongoing COVID-19 vaccination efforts haven’t been a priority since June 1 — ticking up slightly as the Fourth of July weekend approached amid the rising cases.

Out of 884 posts on Facebook during that span, only 47 — or 5.3% — mention the COVID-19 vaccine, including a total of 29 posts from four of the 11 political leaders that actively encourage vaccination.

That’s important given the politicization of COVID-19 vaccines, evidenced by this study on the red/blue vaccination divide from the Kaiser Family Foundation, and the importance of Facebook for news consumption, especially since all 11 political leaders included in the audit have sizable followings.

The notable exception is Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, whose official Facebook page has included 26 posts in the past six weeks about COVID-19 vaccines and vaccination efforts.

More than 23% of the messaging on her Facebook page since June 1 mentions vaccines.

Meanwhile, four local political leaders from Missouri — Reps. Emanuel Cleaver II, Sam Graves and Vicky Hartzler, along with Sen. Josh Hawley — haven’t mentioned COVID-19 vaccines on Facebook during that span.

Four other high-ranking political leaders — Sens. Roy Blunt, Roger Marshall and Jerry Moran, along with Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas — have posted three or fewer times about the vaccine or vaccination efforts.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson also had refrained from posting about the COVID-19 on Facebook, with one message from June 1 to July 6 encouraging the public to get vaccinated, but he has ramped up messaging in recent days with four posts explicitly encouraging people to get vaccinated.

Rep. Sharice Davids has mentioned the COVID-19 vaccine, often encouraging the public to get vaccinated, in six posts since June 1.

Of the 10 political leaders who responded to a brief survey about the COVID-19 vaccine, excluding Moran, all 10 have personally been vaccinated.

For more information about COVID-19 vaccines, Missouri’s Stronger Together vaccination resource includes a vaccine finder and information about the COVID-19 vaccines. Kansas has a similar resource, relying on the CDC’s vaccine-finder tool.

Here’s a complete breakdown of local leaders’ vaccine messaging on Facebook:

Sen. Roy Blunt

Official page Facebook likes: 31,441

Follows: 83,483

Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, mentioned the COVID-19 vaccine in three of 41 posts since June 1 on his Facebook page, where he also declared the pandemic “nearly defeated” on June 15 with Missouri in the midst of its largest surge in new cases since July 2020.

He praised the scientific community’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in a link post to his Washington Times op-ed, citing active participation from the federal government as a driving force, and suggested it should be a model for combatting other diseases moving forward.

Another post about COVID19 vaccines included a link to research from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis about the “strong and potentially long-lasting” immune response created by mRNA vaccines.

Blunt also said “getting more Missourians vaccinated and back in the workforce” was discussed at a June 30 meeting with the Mark Twain Regional Council of Governments, which serves as the regional planning commission for much of northeast Missouri.

He did not directly appeal to his constituents to get vaccinated in any of the posts, though Blunt’s office pointed to a March 10 Facebook post and an April 29 tweet in which he encouraged the public “to consider” getting vaccinated.

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Blunt praised and thanked health care workers at the Ozarks Community Health Center for doing “an incredible job meeting an unprecedented challenge” in a June 2 post, but didn’t mention COVID-19 or vaccines.

Blunt was far more likely to post on Facebook about the economy (13) and the election reform fight in the Senate (7).

His office confirmed that Blunt is vaccinated and said “he has been actively encouraging all Missourians to consider getting vaccinated” in a statement to 41 Action News.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II

Official page Facebook likes: 25,307

Follows: 32,312

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, a Missouri Democrat, utilizes Facebook less than any other local politician, but none of the 14 posts since June 1 on his political figure and more-active campaign pages reference the COVID-19 vaccine.

The three most recent posts on his personal page are about the forthcoming Child Tax Credit from the American Rescue Plan that should begin to hit bank accounts next week.

In a statement, Cleaver’s office said, “The congressman has been vaccinated and highly encourages Missourians to do so.”

Rep. Sharice Davids

Official page Facebook likes: 18,157

Follows: 20,029

Since June 1, there have been 72 posts to Rep. Sharice Davids’ official Facebook account, including six that reference the COVID-19 vaccine.

Davids joined Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly for a public service announcement to encourage vaccinations and also posted a link to resources for anyone wishing to get vaccinated in the days leading up to the Fourth of July weekend, when health officials worried gatherings would lead to an increase in cases.

Additionally, Davids posted about vaccine clinics at F.L. Schlagle High School and Johnson County Community College, encouraged vaccination surrounding her Call With A Congresswoman, and posted her interview with Univision Kansas City regarding vaccine outreach to the Latinx community.

She also posted June 3 about declining COVID-19 cases, crediting the American Rescue Plan stimulus bill and President Biden’s administration, but didn’t mention vaccines as part of that message.

Davids posted nearly four times as often about the economy (22), often touting the benefits of the stimulus or reports about job gains. She also was more likely to post about civil rights (10), including messages about Pride Month and Juneteenth, and infrastructure (10).

Davids, the first lesbian woman of color elected to Congress, is one of 11 openly gay members of the current U.S. Congress.

She and Cleaver were vaccinated in January during a clinic at the U.S. Capitol.

Today @repcleaver and I received the COVID-19 vaccine. It’s my hope we can help reassure people in all communities — including communities of color — of the safety and importance of receiving the vaccine when it’s made available to them. pic.twitter.com/SUONAEzEql

— Rep. Sharice Davids (@RepDavids) January 5, 2021

Rep. Sam Graves

Official page Facebook likes: 47,700

Follows: 56,671

Since June 1, Rep. Sam Graves, a Missouri Republican, there have been 100 posts on his office’s Facebook page, including zero that mention the COVID-19 vaccine.

The only post to tangentially mention COVID-19 vaccines was a post with a link to a Fox News article about plans for a door-knocking campaign to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates, which Graves derided as “a bonehead idea.”

He also posted twice about the origins of the COVID-19 vaccine, including a link to an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal.

Graves’ district includes Platte County, most of Clay County, a sliver of Jackson County and all of northern Missouri — including Livingston and Linn counties, where COVID-19 cases began surging in late May.

He was far more likely to post about infrastructure (20), history (11), the Waters of the United States rules (10), flooding and FEMA clawbacks (10), or illegal immigration (5).

Rep. Vicky Hartzler

Official page Facebook likes: 16,960

Follows: 21,580

Across her campaign and congressional office pages, Rep. Vicky Hartzler, a Missouri Republican, has made 75 posts since June 1 — none that mention the COVID-19 vaccine.

Her most popular talking points were illegal immigration (15) and the military (9), along with five posts each about China, invoking former President Trump or her announcement earlier this month that she would run for Roy Blunt’s seat in the U.S. Senate.

Hartzler represents a congressional district that extends south and west of the Kansas City area and includes Bates, Cass, Henry, Johnson and Pettis counties, along with portions of southwest Missouri.

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Her office confirmed that she has been vaccinated but stopped short of encouraging the public to get vaccinated.

“Rep. Hartzler encourages people to get information about the vaccines but believes Missourians know what is best for their families and respects each personal decision regarding the COVID-19 vaccine,” Hartzler’s office said. “She does not think it is appropriate for government officials to solicit vaccinations door-to-door.”

Sen. Josh Hawley

Official page Facebook likes: 71,655

Follows: 88,999

None of the 19 posts, many of which are of family but others that are overtly political in nature, since June 1 on his Senate campaign page mentions COVID-19 vaccines.

Among the nine posts on his office’s main page, one mentions COVID-19 in the context of his concerns about how Canada’s health restrictions impact religious freedom there.

He hasn’t posted multiple times about any one subject to that page nor has he mentioned the COVID-19 vaccine, but his office did confirm that he is vaccinated.

“I’m vaccinated, but we need to give everybody the opportunity to make their own medical decisions,” Hawley said in a statement to 41 Action News. “Medical decisions are intensely personal decisions, and we need to trust folks with these decisions. The American people are smart and independent minded. And, having experts and government officials lecture us or threaten to visit our homes won’t do anything to persuade those who are hesitant. It will have the opposite effect.”

Gov. Laura Kelly

Official page Facebook likes: 50,953

Follows: 69,181

Among the 11 politicians selected for the audit, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s Facebook page has been the most consistent with regard to COVID-19 messaging.

She’s made 111 posts since June 1 on her official page, including 26 that mention the pandemic and 17 that specifically address vaccine or vaccination efforts.

Kelly has pinned a post from March 23 that said the COVID-19 vaccine is “safe, effective, and will protect all of us as we return to normal” atop her page.

Her posts during the past six weeks include updates on Kansas vaccination rates and vaccination campaigns, including a door-to-door effort in Shawnee County and outreach to Spanish-speaking residents; the emerging delta variant; the PSA with Rep. Sharice Davids; information about vaccine equity; two posts about the state’s emergency declaration and its importance in the vaccination effort; and multiple posts about vaccine clinics.

Kelly also has frequently posted about the economy (28) and infrastructure (12) along with six posts each about civil rights, agriculture and the military.

Mayor Quinton Lucas

Official page Facebook likes: 37,101

Follows: 49,810

Mayor Quinton Lucas has made 85 posts since June 1 on his official Facebook page, including four regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and three that specifically mention vaccines.

He appeared June 23 on The University of Kansas Health System’s daily briefing to discuss the pandemic and COVID-19 vaccination efforts and also shared a link to the conversation.

Four days later, he authored another post with a link to an article about rising hospitalization rates in the region, asking Kansas Citians to “encourage those you know and love, or even those you are just ‘meh’ about, to take the vaccine.”

Lucas also posted about a KCPD officer who died from COVID-19, and suggested Missouri should “fight COVID, not the federal government” after Parson said Biden’s door-to-door campaign wasn’t welcome.

He’s posted more often about the Kansas City, Missouri, police department and/or violent crime (18), including five posts specifically about the department’s funding.

Lucas also has posted frequently about community events (16), civil rights (10), building safety and infrastructure (8), and the economy or KC-area jobs (8).

Sen. Roger Marshall

Official page Facebook likes: 49,467

Follows: 54,433

Dr. Roger Marshall, a Republican senator from Kansas, has made 60 posts on his office’s Facebook page since June 1, including two that mention the COVID-19 vaccine.

He has posted eight times during that span about the origin of COVID-19 and the need for further investigation.

Marshall also has posted 11 times about town halls or other public appearances, along with frequent posts on voting rights (6) and the economy (5).

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The only two mentions of the vaccine came June 7 in a post crediting Operation Warp Speed, the name for the federal vaccine development initiative, for helping Kansas turn the tide of the pandemic and a July 2 post where he touted and thanked workers at McPherson’s Pfizer plant for manufacturing the vaccine.

Neither post actively encouraged unvaccinated individuals to receive the vaccine.

However, Marshall, whose office confirmed he is vaccinated, previously posted a public service announcement in April 2021, encouraging people to get vaccinated.

Marshall, a physician and former U.S. Army reservist, said the vaccine was safe, calling the development process “rigorous and transparent” and noting that he followed it closely. He calls vaccines “a clear path to the eradication of the pandemic.”

He encouraged the public to seek and follow the advice of doctors, pharmacists and nurses.

“I hope you will join me along with over 100 million Americans in choosing to get the vaccine,” Marshall said.

Nine other doctors who serve in Congress recorded similar messages.

Sen. Jerry Moran

Official page Facebook likes: 23,747

Follows: 51,378

Sen. Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican, mentioned COVID-19 in five of 61 posts on his Facebook page, specifically mentioning vaccines twice.

Among his five posts that mention COVID-19, one was of a letter questioning the Transportation Security Administration’s mask mandate for public travel and two dealt with the hours of operation at the Eisenhower Presidential Library.

Neither of his posts that mention the COVID-19 vaccine — one regarding a town hall in Olathe and the other about the Taiwanese ambassador’s request for vaccine assistance from the U.S. among other topics — encouraged Kansans to get vaccinated.

Moran posted about nine additional town halls, but didn’t mention the pandemic or vaccines on those occasions. He also was more likely to post about the aviation sector (7) or military (6).

Gov. Mike Parson

Official page Facebook likes: 90,151

Follows: 134,283

Among 237 posts on Gov. Mike Parson’s Facebook page since June 1, there are 12 that mention the COVID-19 vaccine with four of the five actively encouraging Missourians to get vaccinated coming in the past three days as a federal COVID-19 surge response team arrived in Missouri.

Only one post — a link to a video from Fox News Business channel — mentions the delta variant, though it comes under a generic headline and neither specifically mentions the alarming trend in Missouri nor does it encourage vaccination.

There had only been one post to Parson’s official page since the start of June, which more broadly touted the Show Me Strong Recovery Plan, that actively encouraged Missourians to get vaccinated before Wednesday night.

Parson has since posted four times encouraging Missouri residents to get vaccinated and shared a post Friday from the Springfield-Greene County Health Department with details of upcoming vaccine clinics.

The first two vaccine-related posts were prefaced by his directive “to tell the federal government that sending government employees or agents door-to-door to compel vaccination would NOT be an effective OR welcome strategy in Missouri.”

In both posts, Parson went on to note that he and his wife, Teresa, have been vaccinated “and we encourage anyone age 12 and up to get vaccinated to protect themselves and those around them.”

The post Thursday morning included photos of the Missouri governor and first lady receiving an inoculation.

He mentioned vaccination as “the best method of COVID-19 prevention” in another post Thursday and touted the public’s “access to the life-saving COVID-19 vaccine” in a post Friday.

The focus on vaccinations has been recent with most mentions earlier in the month touting the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine with no call to action.

Parson posted 79 times about the economy — including posts on taxes, tourism, jobs and Missouri businesses — since June 1 and also had more than 20 posts about both infrastructure and law enforcement.

Parson also posted nearly as much or more about Missouri’s upcoming bicentennial (14), veterans and the military (9), the prescription drug monitoring program (8), and Medicaid (8).

Copyright 2021 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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Facebook Adds New Trend Insights in Creator Studio, Which Could Help Shape Your Posting Strategy

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Facebook’s looking to provide more content insight within Creator Studio with the rollout of a new ‘Inspiration Hub’ element, which highlights trending content and hashtags within categories related to your business Page.

Facebook Inspiration Hub

As you can see in these screenshots, posted by social media expert Matt Navarra, when it becomes available to you, you’ll be able to access the new Inspiration Hub from the Home tab in Creator Studio.

At the right side of the screen, you can see the first of the new insights, with trending hashtags and videos from the last 24 hours, posted by Pages similar to yours, displayed above a ‘See more’ prompt.

When you tap through to the new hub, you’ll have a range of additional filters to check out trending content from across Facebook, including Page category, content type, region, and more.

Facebook Inspiration Hub

That could be hugely valuable in learning what Facebook users are responding to, and what people within your target market are engaging with in the app.

The Hub also includes insights into trending hashtags, within your chosen timeframe, which may further assist in tapping into trending discussions.

Facebook Inspiration Hub

How valuable hashtags are on Facebook is still up for debate, but you’ll also note that you can filter the displayed results by platform, so you can additionally display Instagram hashtag trends as well, which could be very valuable in maximizing your reach.

Much of this type of info has been available within CrowdTangle, Facebook’s analytics platform for journalists, for some time, but not everyone can access CrowdTangle data, which could make this an even more valuable proposition for many marketers.

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Of course, overall performance really relates to your own creative, and thinking through the action that you want your audience to take when reading your posts. But in terms of detecting new content trends, including hashtag usage, caption length, videos versus image posts, and more, there’s a lot that could be gleaned from these tools and filters.

It’s a significant analytics addition – we’ve asked Facebook for more info on the rollout of the new option, and whether it’s already beyond test mode, etc. We’ll update this post if/when we hear back.

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Meta Updates Policy on Cryptocurrency Ads, Opening the Door to More Crypto Promotions in its Apps

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With cryptocurrencies gaining momentum, in line with the broader Web 3.0 push, Meta has today announced an update to its ad policies around cryptocurrencies, which will open the door to more crypto advertisers on its platforms.

As per Meta:

Starting today, we’re updating our eligibility criteria for running ads about cryptocurrency on our platform by expanding the number of regulatory licenses we accept from three to 27. We are also making the list of eligible licenses publicly available on our policy page.”

Essentially, in order to run any crypto ads in Meta’s apps, that currency needs to adhere to regional licensing provisions, which vary by nation. With crypto becoming more accepted, Meta’s now looking to enable more crypto companies to publish ads on its platform, which will provide expanded opportunity for recognized crypto providers to promote their products, while also enabling Meta to make more money from crypto ads.

“Previously, advertisers could submit an application and include information such as any licenses they obtained, whether they are traded on a public stock exchange, and other relevant public background on their business. However, over the years the cryptocurrency landscape has matured and stabilized and experienced an increase in government regulation, which has helped to set clearer responsibilities and expectations for the industry. Going forward, we will be moving away from using a variety of signals to confirm eligibility and instead requiring one of these 27 licenses.”

Is that a good move? Well, as Meta notes, the crypto marketplace is maturing, and there’s now much wider recognition of cryptocurrencies as a legitimate form of payment. But they’re also not supported by most local financial regulators, which reduced transaction protection and oversight, which also brings a level of risk in such process.

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But then again, all crypto providers are required to clearly outline any such risks, and most also highlight the ongoing market volatility in the space. This expanded level of overall transparency means that most people who are investing in crypto have at least some awareness of these elements, which likely does diminish the risk factor in such promotions within Meta’s apps.

But as crypto adoption continues to expand, more of these risks will become apparent, and while much of the crypto community is built on good faith, and a sense of community around building something new, there are questions as to how much that can hold at scale, and what that will then mean for evolving scams and criminal activity, especially as more vulnerable investors are brought into the mix.

Broader promotional capacity through Meta’s apps will certainly help to boost exposure in this respect – though again, the relative risk factors are lessened by expanded regulatory oversight outside of the company.

You can read more about Meta’s expanded crypto ad regulations here.

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Meta Outlines Evolving Safety Measures in Messaging as it Seeks to Allay Fears Around the Expansion of E2E Encryption

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Amid rising concern about Meta’s move to roll out end-to-end encryption by default to all of its messaging apps, Meta’s Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis has today sought to provide a level of reassurance that Meta is indeed aware of the risks and dangers that such protection can pose, and that it is building safeguards into its processes to protect against potential misuse.

Though the measures outlined don’t exactly address all the issues raised by analysts and safety groups around the world.

As a quick recap, back in 2019, Facebook announced its plan to merge the messaging functionalities of Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp, which would then provide users with a universal inbox, with all of your message threads from each app accessible on either platform.

The idea is that this will simplify cross-connection, while also opening the door to more opportunities for brands to connect with users in the messaging tool of their choice – but it also, inherently, means that the data protection method for its messaging tools must rise to the level of WhatsApp, its most secure messaging platform, which already includes E2E encryption as the default.

Various child safety experts raised the alarm, and several months after Facebook’s initial announcement, representatives from the UK, US and Australian Governments sent an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg requesting that the company abandon its integration plan.

Meta has pushed ahead, despite specific concerns that the expansion of encryption will see its messaging tools used by child trafficking and exploitation groups, and now, as it closes in on the next stage, Meta’s working to counter such claims, with Davis outlining six key elements which she believes will ensure safety within this push.

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Davis has explained the various measures that Meta has added on this front, including:

  • Detection tools to stop adults from repeatedly setting up new profiles in an attempt to connect minors that they don’t know
  • Safety notices in Messenger, which provide tips on spotting suspicious behavior
  • The capacity to filter messages with selected keywords on Instagram
  • More filtering options in chat requests to help avoid unwanted contact
  • Improved education prompts to help detect spammers and scammers in messages
  • New processes to make it easier to report potential harm, including an option to select “involves a child”, which will then prioritize the report for review and action

Meta messaging security options

Which are all good, all important steps in detection, while Davis also notes that its reporting process “decrypts portions of the conversation that were previously encrypted and unavailable to us so that we can take immediate action if violations are detected”.

That’ll no doubt raise an eyebrow or two among WhatsApp users – but the problem here is that, overall, the broader concern is that such protections will facilitate usage by criminal groups, and the reliance on self-reporting in this respect is not going to have any impact on these networks operating, at scale, under a more protected messaging framework within Meta’s app eco-system.

Governments have called for ‘backdoor access’ to break Meta’s encryption for investigations into such activity, which Meta says is both not possible and will not be built into its future framework. The elements outlined by Davis do little to address this specific need, and without the capacity to better detect such, it’s hard to see any of the groups opposed to Meta’s expanded encryption changing their stance, and accepting that the merging of all of the platform’s DM options will not also see a rise in criminal activity organized via the same apps.

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Of course, the counterargument could be that encryption is already available on WhatsApp, and that criminal activity of this type can already be undertaken within WhatsApp alone. But with a combined user count of 3.58 billion people per month across its family of apps, that’s a significantly broader interconnection of people than WhatsApp’s 2 billion active users, which, arguably, could open the door to far more potential harm and danger in this respect.

Really, there’s no right answer here. Privacy advocates will argue that encryption should be the standard, and that more people are actually more protected, on balance, by enhanced security measures. But there is also an undeniable risk in shielding even more criminal groups from detection.

Either way, right now, Meta seems determined to push ahead with the plan, which will weld all of its messaging tools together, and also make it more difficult to break-up its network, if any antitrust decisions don’t go Meta’s way, and it’s potentially pressed to sell-off Instagram or WhatsApp as a result.

But expect more debate to be had, in more countries, as Meta continues to justify its decision, and regulatory and law enforcement groups seek more options to help maintain a level of accessibility for criminal investigations and detection.

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