Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Facebook’s ‘Widely Viewed Content’ Report Is Really Strange

Shannon Bond, NPR:

What do people see most on Facebook? Recipes, cute cat GIFs or highly charged political partisanship?

That question has been hard to answer, because the social network keeps a tight lid on so much of its data.

Now, Facebook is for the first time making public some information on what content gets the most views every quarter as the company pushes back against claims its platform is dominated by inflammatory, highly partisan and even misleading posts.

I was going to link directly to Facebook’s report, but it does not appear to have an edition-specific permalink. The company also issued a press release:

The content that’s seen by the most people isn’t necessarily the content that also gets the most engagement. Read more about how engagement — the likes, shares, and comments a Page or post generates — doesn’t equate to its reach, the number of people who actually see it.

That seems to be a pretty direct attempt to rebut New York Times reporter Kevin Roose’s daily top ten roundup, which has consistently shown that the most-engaged Facebook posts in the U.S. are from conservative media personalities and publications. Roose on Twitter:

I’m all for more data, but this new FB “widely viewed content” report (which I think represents the most labor-intensive effort ever made to dunk on me personally?) is just a tremendously weird document.

The most basic thing is: despite FB’s objections to @FacebooksTop10, there is no inherent reason that reach (how many people see a post in their feeds) is a better measure of popularity than engagement (how many people like/share/comment on it).

I agree. These are two metrics that show different results but are both valid. If the situation were reversed — if idiots like Ben Shapiro got the most views, while links from YouTube, Unicef, and a Green Bay Packers alumni page were engaged with most frequently — I bet Facebook would be trumpeting engagement as a more valid metric.

Oh, and about that Green Bay Packers alumni page. Ethan Zuckerman:

But who the hell is playeralumniresources.com? They’re the #9 most common domain in the Facebook news feed, and their homepage is the #1 most common URL in Facebook’s set, with 87.2 million views. Well, they’re a speaking agency of former Green Bay Packers players, who are available to join you for a round of golf, a fishing expedition or to sign autographs. And while I personally would be willing to pay a good deal of money to catch walleye with William Henderson (#33, legendary Packers fullback and Superbowl champion), the popularity of this page suggests that there’s something wacky about this data set.

I had the same reaction to this link’s appearance. It makes no sense to see it sandwiched between Spotify and ABC News, and well above CNN and Google, in a list of the top twenty domains on Facebook.

Sophie Zhang on Twitter:

I took a quick look; it looks like the cause may be the marketing strategy site creator Chris Jacke has apparently taken: to share the link in every single post/comment/etc. he makes.

10,000 posts seen 90k times each is quite doable for an ex-NFL player.

There are several oddball links and domains like this in Facebook’s report mixed with expected ones, like YouTube, all presented entirely without context. What YouTube and Vimeo videos are people sharing? That is something Facebook does not elaborate on. One of the few remarkable notes about this report is that no specific YouTube video was popular enough on Facebook to be listed.

It is a really bizarre report that raises more questions than it answers and, as far as I am concerned, is not the counterpoint to Roose’s daily top ten it seems intended to be.