Why Facebook put aside an earlier popular post report

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When Facebook released its first quarterly report this week on the most viewed posts in the United States, Guy Rosen, its vice president of integrity, said the social network had taken “a long journey” to be “de far the most transparent platform on the Internet. ”The list showed that the most popular posts tended to be harmless content like recipes and cute animals.

Facebook had prepared a similar report for the first three months of the year, but executives never shared it with the public, fearing it might look bad for the company, according to internal emails sent by executives. and shared with the New York Times.

In that report, a copy of which was provided to The Times, the most viewed link was a news article with a headline suggesting the coronavirus vaccine was responsible for the death of a Florida doctor. The report also showed that a Facebook page for The Epoch Times, an anti-China newspaper that broadcasts right-wing conspiracy theories, was the platform’s 19th most popular page for the first three months of 2021.

The report was on the verge of being released to the public when some executives including Alex Schultz, Facebook’s vice president of analytics and chief marketing officer, questioned whether this would pose a PR problem, according to the emails. internal. The company decided to put it on the back burner.

“We considered making the report public earlier,” said Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesperson, “but since we knew the attention it would get, exactly as we saw this week, we wanted to correct the system. ”

Mr Stone said Mr Schultz advocated the release of the original report, but ultimately accepted the recommendation to suspend. Facebook released the report Saturday after the publication of this article.

Facebook did not say why it decided to produce a popularity report, but it has come under increasing scrutiny for the data it shares with government and the public, especially disinformation. on virus and vaccines. Criticism has intensified as cases of the Delta variant of the coronavirus have increased. The White House called on the company to share more information about the false and misleading information on the site and to do a better job of stopping its spread. President Biden last month accused the company of “killing people” by allowing false information to circulate widely, a statement the White House later softened. Other federal agencies have accused Facebook of withholding key data.

Facebook pushed back, publicly accusing the White House of making the company a scapegoat for the administration’s failure to meet its vaccination goals. Facebook executives, including Mark Zuckerberg, its chief executive, said the platform has aggressively suppressed disinformation about Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic. The company said it removed more than 18 million bad information during that time.

But Brian Boland, former vice president of product marketing at Facebook, said there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical about the data collected and published by a company that is used to protecting its own interests.

“You cannot trust a report that is organized by a company and designed to combat a press story rather than genuine meaningful transparency,” Boland said. “It is up to regulators and government officials to provide us with this transparency. “

In this week’s report, which covered public content viewed on Facebook’s news feed from April 1 to June 30, popular links included local news, a GIF chat, and a Green Bay alumni website. Packers. The popular posts, which were viewed by tens of millions of accounts, included viral question-and-answer prompts and memes.

Most of the company’s draft report, like the one posted by Facebook on Wednesday, showed that the 20 most viewed links on Facebook in the United States were to non-political content, like recipe sites and stories about the Fund. of the United Nations for Children.

But the rejected report also included the article about the doctor’s death in Florida. The title of the article, taken from the South Florida Sun Sentinel and republished by the Chicago Tribune: “‘Healthy’ doctor died two weeks after receiving COVID-19 vaccine; The CDC is investigating why.

This link has been seen by nearly 54 million Facebook accounts in the United States. Many commentators on the post have raised questions about vaccine safety. According to data from CrowdTangle, a social media analytics company owned by Facebook, six of the top 20 sharers were from public Facebook pages that regularly post anti-vaccination content on Facebook. Other main story-sharers included Philippine Facebook pages supporting President Rodrigo Duterte, a pro-Israel Facebook group, and a page titled “Just the Facts,” which described itself as “publishing the truth even when the media don’t. do not ”.

Months later, the medical examiner’s report said there was not enough evidence to say whether the vaccine contributed to the doctor’s death. Far fewer people on Facebook have seen this update.

The social network’s 19th most popular page in the previous report was “Trending World” by The Epoch Times, a publication that promoted the QAnon conspiracy theory and spread misleading allegations of voter fraud ahead of the 2020 presidential election. The Epoch Times is prohibited from advertising on Facebook due to its repeated violations of the platform’s political advertising policy.

According to the report, Trending World was viewed by 81.4 million accounts, slightly less than the 18th most popular page, Fox News, which had 81.7 million content viewers in the first three months of 2021.

Facebook’s transparency report released on Wednesday also showed that an Epoch Times subscription link was among the most viewed in the United States. With some 44.2 million accounts seeing the link in April, May and June, it was about half as popular as Trending World in the paused report.

Sheera frenkel and Mike isaac contributed reports. Jacob Silver and Ben decker contributed research.


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