Last week, Facebook released its first “widely viewed content” report, a document that essentially was the company’s response to numerous reports that the most engaging content on the platform usually comes from polarizing and potentially misleading conservative figures and outlets, including Newsmax, Fox News, Ben Shapiro and Dan Bongino. The report last week contradicted that, saying that in Q2 of 2021, top domains included more innocuous content coming from YouTube, Amazon, TikTok and a cat GIF from Tumblr.
But on Friday, the New York Times published a report saying that it had seen a “widely viewed content” report for Q1 of 2021 and that it showed different trends. For example, the most-viewed link was a story claiming a Florida doctor died from the coronovirus vaccine. Facebook has now confirmed the document’s accuracy and released it directly.
Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone took to Twitter to get into the details of the report and said that Facebook withheld the report because “there were key fixes to the system we wanted to make,” but he didn’t elaborate on what those fixes are.
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 (@andymstone) August 21, 2021
Stone also did a deep dive into the misleading story that came out of Florida, trying to explain Facebook’s decisions around it. “News outlets wrote about the south Florida doctor that died. When the coroner released a cause of death, the Chicago Tribune appended an update to its original story; NYTimes did not,” he wrote on Twitter. “Would it have been right to remove the Times story because it was COVID misinfo? Of course not. No one is actually suggesting this and neither am I. But it does illustrate just how difficult it is to define misinformation.”
As noted by the New York Times, Facebook has been trying to counter pressure around the things shared on its platform, specifically regarding misinformation around COVID-19 and its vaccine. Much of that pressure is coming directly from the US government. President Biden memorably said last month that Facebook was “killing people” with vaccine misinformation on its site, though he walked back his statements slightly later.
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