Facebook, Fearing Public Outcry, Shelved Earlier Report on Popular Posts

When Facebook this week launched its first quarterly report about probably the most considered posts within the United States, Guy Rosen, its vice chairman of integrity, stated the social community had undertaken “a long journey” to be “by far the most transparent platform on the internet.” The listing confirmed that the posts with probably the most attain tended to be innocuous content material like recipes and cute animals.

Facebook had ready the same report for the primary three months of the 12 months, however executives by no means shared it with the general public due to issues that it might look dangerous for the corporate, in line with inner emails despatched by executives and shared with The New York Times.

In that report, a duplicate of which was offered to The Times, the most-viewed hyperlink was a information article with a headline suggesting that the coronavirus vaccine was at fault for the dying of a Florida physician. The report additionally confirmed {that a} Facebook web page for The Epoch Times, an anti-China newspaper that spreads right-wing conspiracy theories, was the 19th-most-popular web page on the platform for the primary three months of 2021.

The report was nearing public launch when some executives, together with Alex Schultz, Facebook’s vice chairman of analytics and chief advertising officer, debated whether or not it might trigger a public relations downside, in line with the inner emails. The firm determined to shelve it.

“We considered making the report public earlier,” stated Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesman, “but since we knew the attention it would garner, exactly as we saw this week, there were fixes to the system we wanted to make.”

Mr. Stone stated Mr. Schultz had advocated releasing the unique report however finally agreed with the advice to carry off. Facebook launched the report on Saturday after the publication of this story.

Facebook didn’t say why it determined to supply a recognition report, but it surely has confronted rising scrutiny over the info it shares with the federal government and the general public, notably over misinformation in regards to the virus and vaccines. The criticism has escalated as circumstances from the Delta variant of the coronavirus surged. The White House has called on the company to share more information about false and deceptive data on the positioning, and to do a greater job of stopping its unfold. Last month, President Biden accused the corporate of “killing people” by permitting false data to flow into extensively, a press release the White House later softened. Other federal companies have accused Facebook of withholding key knowledge.

Facebook has pushed again, publicly accusing the White House of scapegoating the corporate for the administration’s failure to succeed in its vaccination targets. Executives at Facebook, together with Mark Zuckerberg, its chief government, have stated the platform has been aggressively eradicating Covid-19 misinformation because the begin of the pandemic. The firm stated it had eliminated over 18 million items of misinformation in that interval.

But Brian Boland, a former vice chairman of product advertising at Facebook, stated there was loads of purpose to be skeptical about knowledge collected and launched by an organization that has had a historical past of defending its personal pursuits.

“You can’t trust a report that is curated by a company and designed to combat a press narrative rather than real meaningful transparency,” Mr. Boland stated. “It’s up to regulators and government officials to bring us that transparency.”

In this week’s report, which coated public content material considered in Facebook’s News Feed from April 1 to June 30, widespread hyperlinks included native information tales, a cat GIF and a Green Bay Packers alumni web site. Popular posts, which have been seen by tens of tens of millions of accounts, included viral question-and-answer prompts and memes.

Most of the corporate’s draft report, just like the one Facebook launched on Wednesday, confirmed that the 20 most-viewed hyperlinks on Facebook within the United States have been to nonpolitical content material, like recipe websites and tales in regards to the United Nations Children’s Fund.

But the rejected report additionally included the article in regards to the physician’s dying in Florida. The headline of the article, from The South Florida Sun Sentinel and republished by The Chicago Tribune: “A ‘healthy’ doctor died two weeks after getting a COVID-19 vaccine; CDC is investigating why.”

This hyperlink was considered by almost 54 million Facebook accounts within the United States. Many commenters on the submit raised questions in regards to the vaccines’ security. Six of the highest 20 sharers got here from public Facebook pages that usually submit anti-vaccination content material on Facebook, in line with knowledge from CrowdTangle, a social media analytics agency owned by Facebook. Other prime sharers of the story included Filipino Facebook pages supporting President Rodrigo Duterte, a pro-Israel Facebook group and a web page known as “Just the Facts,” which described itself as “putting out the Truth even when the media won’t.”

Months later, the health worker’s report stated there wasn’t sufficient proof to say whether or not the vaccine contributed to the physician’s dying. Far fewer individuals on Facebook noticed that replace.

The 19th-most-popular web page on the social community within the earlier report was “Trending World” by the Epoch Times, a publication that has promoted the QAnon conspiracy idea and unfold deceptive claims about voter fraud earlier than the 2020 presidential election. The Epoch Times is barred from advertising on Facebook due to its repeated violations of the platform’s political promoting coverage.

Trending World, in line with the report, was considered by 81.four million accounts, barely fewer than the 18th-most-popular web page, Fox News, which had 81.7 million content material viewers for the primary three months of 2021.

Facebook’s transparency report launched on Wednesday additionally confirmed that an Epoch Times subscription hyperlink was among the many most considered within the United States. With some 44.2 million accounts seeing the hyperlink in April, May and June, it was about half as widespread as Trending World within the shelved report.

Sheera Frenkel and Mike Isaac contributed reporting. Jacob Silver and Ben Decker contributed analysis.

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