Facebook made up a new popularity ranking so you will stop talking about what’s actually popular on Facebook

Mark zuckerberg congress
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a joint hearing of the Commerce and Judiciary Committees on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, about the use of Facebook data to target American voters in the 2016 election. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
  • Facebook’s best-performing pages in the US are often entirely right-wing publications.
  • The data demonstrating as much comes from Facebook’s own measurement tool, CrowdTangle.
  • Now, Facebook is blending that data with other metrics to obscure what users actually engage with.
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Despite claims by some Republican politicians led by former President Trump that social-media sites censor conservative views, Facebook’s data makes it clear: The social network’s best-performing content is disproportionately from right- and far-right-wing publications and personalities.

That’s according to CrowdTangle, a service Facebook owns and operates, which measures and tracks user engagement.

But Facebook has long bristled at this characterization.

“Our own tools are helping journos to consolidate the wrong narrative,” Nick Clegg, Facebook’s VP of global affairs, said in an internal company email, The New York Times reported last month. Like Facebook’s advertising transparency tools, CrowdTangle has been repeatedly used to demonstrate major criticisms of the tech and social-media giant – criticisms that Facebook executives would rather not have to defend in public.

Rather than engage with those criticisms, Facebook is taking a very different step: The social media giant rolled out an entirely new metric on Tuesday that gives a very different impression of what’s popular on Facebook.

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“Our goal is to provide clarity around what people see in their Facebook News Feed, the different content types that appear in their Feed and the most-viewed domains, links, Pages and posts on the platform during the quarter,” Facebook said in the intro to its first ever “Widely Viewed Content Report.”

Whereas Facebook’s CrowdTangle data specifically tracks “engagement” – the stuff most people interacted with on Facebook – the new quarterly report aims to paint “a more complete picture of what people see on Facebook,” the report said.

Instead of looking at what people are interacting with on Facebook, the report measures what users viewed the most. Rather than a bunch of political stuff – which users engage with by sharing, commenting, and reacting to – the most-viewed posts on Facebook are mostly memes, the most-viewed Pages are mostly entertainment, and the most-viewed domains are YouTube and Amazon.

And even these, Facebook says, represent a small minority of the overall Facebook ecosystem. “Even though the total number of content viewers who saw these Pages was high, there are so many Pages and so much content on Facebook that the top 20 can still account for a small fraction of all content views in News Feed,” the report said.

In reality, what matters the most on Facebook is engagement: Are users not just seeing, but interacting with a particular post or Page?

By that metric, Facebook continues to be dominated by politically divisive content, as documented by the Twitter account “Facebook’s Top 10,” run by New York Times tech journalist Kevin Roose:

The account pulls from Facebook’s own CrowdTangle data, and shows the top 10 Pages by engagement.

The list is regularly topped by Conservative radio host Ben Shapiro, far-right cable news channel Newsmax, and right-wing commentator Dan Bongino, among others.

Former President Donald Trump dominated the lists, before he was banned from Facebook following the attempted insurrection on January 6 and his subsequent response. That, among other metrics, is what led Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to tell Trump he was “number one” on the social-media platform in late 2019.

Former Facebook VP Brian Boland, who has been critical of Facebook, characterized the information in Facebook’s transparency report as, “generally useless,” in a post on Medium on Wednesday.

“Facebook could commit to making this public data available publicly in a searchable tool like CrowdTangle,” Boland said. “Without those commitments and no demonstrated effort to be more transparent the solution likely needs to be a regulatory or legislative one.”

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