The Green Bay Packers play in one of the tiniest media markets in the NFL, with a small but famously loyal fan base. This is a major part of the Packers’ charm. This is also the reason why it was so surprising to find that 87.2 million people visited Facebook’s single-most popular URL over the last three months. It belonged to a site that charges users to meet up with ex-Packer players.
That fact is one of several bizarre data points to emerge from Facebook’s first-ever “Widely Viewed Content Report.” The document is apparently an attempt to push back against the narrative that the platform is overrun with misinformation, fake news, and political extremism. CrowdTangle, a publicly accessible analytics tool that Facebook makes available to the public, shows that the list of most popular pages and posts on the site is heavily dominated and influenced by lower-than-reputable right-wing publications, such as NewsMax, Dan Bongino and others. They far outperform mainstream media.
Facebook has long argued that engagement doesn’t tell the whole story. According to company executives, a better way to gauge what is popular on Facebook is to examine total impressions or “reach”, which is the number of people who see and comment on a piece of content. This argument has a problem. Facebook hadn’t shared data about reach until Wednesday. It makes it impossible for the company to prove its claims. As Roose wrote last month, a proposal to make that data public ran into resistance within the company because it also might not make Facebook look so hot. According to CrowdTangle CEO Brandon Silverman, the “Reach Leaderboard” is not a win-win situation from a communications point of view.
We now have a better understanding of what Silverman might have meant.
This new report is mainly made up of the Top 20 list, which includes the top viewed pages, domains and links over the past three months. According to Facebook, the reports will be released quarterly. It is not surprising that the domains list includes prominent websites such as YouTube, Amazon and GoFundMe. These results aren’t surprising, but they don’t help. A link to YouTube could point to any of the literally millions of videos. But number nine is the URL playeralumniresources.com–that Packers website. The Top 20 Links Ranking is even more bizarre. That URL ranks first. This means that Player Alumni Resources’ homepage was somehow more visited on Facebook than any other website on the internet. Similar surprises are found in the rest of this list. The link to purehempshop.com is in second, and reppnforchrist.com is fifth with 51.6 millions views.
Player Alumni Resources is quietly an internet juggernaut. It’s run by ex-Packers kicker Chris Jacke. The official Facebook page only has 4,100 fans. The posts receive very little likes and comments. Is there something wrong?
Memes are the answer. Jacke, who has over 120,000 followers on his personal Instagram account, posts low-rent viral memes. He also adds the URL to his business at the top. CrowdTangle data shows that a post asking people what they use to describe soda or pop garnered more than 2,000,000 interactions. Jacke did not respond to our requests for comment.
It seems that this is the mode of operation of other members of the leaderboard. With 72.1 million views, the hemp store is in second. With 72.1 million views, the hemp store is in second place.
The fact that Facebook published data, apparently to counter the notion that it was an extreme-right cesspool of spam, is amazing. Facebook claims that engagement data is better than reach data. The new report does not paint an image of a platform that is rich in meaningful interaction and enlightened discourse. Facebook did not immediately reply to our request for comment.
These results make Facebook appear worse than it is. It might sound alarming that 44.2 million people viewed the link to the Epoch Times subscription page. This mysterious publication is linked to Chinese Falun Gong, which has promoted conspiracy theories regarding the 2020 election and pandemic. The page gained those views largely due to posts featuring cute babies and puppies. Facebook shares the total views and not the interactions. It’s impossible to determine the share of clickers, however, as it is text-only, and unrelated to posts, this most likely means that “no one” will be the answer.
This all points to the bigger problem in the report. The amount of information is extremely limited and arbitrary.
Rebekah Trmble, Director of the Institute for Data, Democracy and Politics, George Washington University, says that the report is “really odd” because it contains so few–in reality, there’s no reason for them to use these parameters. The data, she points out, only includes “public” posts–which are visible to anyone on or off Facebook–encountered in users’ NewsFeed. This means that it does not include views shared only with friends and friends of friends. It also leaves out any views that took place on pages or in Facebook groups rather than the NewsFeed, despite the fact that Facebook itself has emphasized the value of posting within groups. Further, the report excludes “organic views”, which includes both advertisements and previously organic posts paid for. The report doesn’t give a complete picture of the content people are seeing on Facebook. Facebook may have good reasons for limiting data in this way. However, they don’t explain them.
Tromble stated that “Taken together this simply clearly indicates there’s still a lot to be done.” This is not a comprehensive overview of all the Facebook content. This is a tiny slice. It makes me question why the criteria for inclusion were set in this manner. What would it make the story different if private posts, pages and groups were included in the analysis? Although I believe it will be, there is no way to tell because we have data only Facebook can access.
Researchers and journalists keep repeating the same tired refrain with each new controversy about what kind of dangerous content Facebook is allowing to go viral: Facebook must be more transparent in what its users see. The Wednesday report won’t change this.
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Publiated at Thu, 19 August 2021 02:42:39 +0000