After criticism for lack of transparency, Facebook releases a previously hidden first quarter report on most-viewed content

Facebook campus
  • Facebook decided to release a transparency report for the first quarter of 2021.
  • Despite pledges of “transparency,” the company held back its original report.
  • The report showed some of the most-viewed content on the platform reflected Right-wing views and misinformation.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Facebook has released a previously unseen report on its most-viewed content in the US after criticism for touting its transparency but failing to release the information.

The report, which lists posts, pages, and links most viewed by Facebook user accounts between January and March 2021, was first obtained and verified Saturday by the New York Times. It represents a “more complete picture of what people see on Facebook,” the company said in the report. Facebook used its own engagement tracking service, CrowdTangle, to compile the data.

In the report, the most-viewed link was to a South Florida Sun Sentinel story republished by the Chicago Tribune whose headline initially suggested a link between the COVID-19 vaccine and a Florida doctor’s death. The story was seen by Facebook users over 53 million times. Among Facebook’s most-viewed pages is the Epoch Times, a Right-wing conspiracy newspaper publication, which drew in over 81 million page views.

The company withheld this early report after several executives said it looked bad for Facebook, the New York Times reported, citing an internal company email.

Last week, Facebook released a similar report showing data for the second quarter of 2021, in an effort to appear more transparent. Last week’s report touted large viewer numbers for more innocuous content, like cat GIFs and meme pages.

“On the question of the unreleased report from earlier this year and why we held it. We ended up holding it because there were key fixes to the system we wanted to make,” Andy Stone, Facebook’s policy communications manager, said in a tweet thread on Saturday.

Insider could not reach either Stone or Facebook for comment on what fixes to the system the company needs to make.

Facebook has been slammed by politicians, health experts, regulators, and many users for not doing enough to limit the spread of misinformation on topics ranging from election conspiracy theories to false narratives about the COVID-19 vaccines. The company has been less than forthcoming about how exactly it plans to monitor content related to topics like the coronavirus vaccine, as COVID case numbers continue to rise around the world. Last month, President Biden said Facebook was “killing people” by not cracking down on coronavirus misinformation – a statement he later walked back.

The social media giant’s decision to release these quarterly reports comes alongside New York Times journalist Kevin Roose’s Twitter account “Facebook’s Top 10,” which also used Facebook’s CrowdTangle data to show that the platform amplifies Right-wing voices – much to Facebook’s annoyance.