Facebook launched a feature in the summer of 2018 called Watch Party. It allows users to share any live video on their feed with the intention of fostering conversation among friends. But a curious thing began happening in the election cycle of 2020, political-themed Watch Parties have been popping up in Facebook Groups that have nothing to do with politics.

By any chance did the 2020 State of the Union appear randomly in a group to which you belong?

Here's one example of a Watch Party from a public group that discusses nostalgia in the small southwest Michigan city of Niles:

Facebook

The comments on a Watch Party in a group unrelated to the subject of the video are what you'd expect. Those whose political leanings are towards the subject of the video are gung-ho to chime in support. Those who lean the other way or are ambivalent rightly question why politics have seeped into their group.

'...it's going to get worse before it gets better'

Interestingly, the poster of this watch party in the screenshot above replied in the comments that they did not post the watch party.

That is likely true. Facebook's Watch Party rules say only group admins can post a Watch Party to their pages.

The Watch Parties I've encountered appear to be overwhelmingly slanted towards conservative politics.

So what happening?

Commentors on that Niles page have some theories:

I have seen many of these watch parties are not the ppl posting them but hackers gotten into their account
Several I have seen ppl say they didn’t post It that they were hacked

 

I am seeing these watch parties all over sites similar to this, definitely a problem. Obviously the work of a controlled group effort, not just a few individuals that are members of this site. Going to get worse before it gets better with this being an election year.

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So there are three possible scenarios as I seem them to explain the proliferation of political Watch Parties on Facebook:

  1. There's a glitch in Facebook's system where a privately posted Watch Party is somehow being added into Groups an individual is a member of.
  2. There is a collective effort among those who support a particular candidate or ideology to pepper social media with what amounts to electioneering propaganda.
  3. Or the coordinated effort is the work of foreign agents, an effort to hack, or at least, "meddle" in the elections, as the LA Times reported in October of 2019. A bipartisan group of US Senators filed a report that documented attempts of foreign governments using social media to sway the electorate during the 2020 election cycle. Random Watch Parties would certainly appear to pass the sniff test.

Whatever the cause, the outcome is that you can likely expect to see more random Watch Parties on your Facebook feed through November. As the commentor on Facebook noted, "it's going to get worse before it gets better."