Okay *cracks knuckles* let’s see what the most popular links were on Facebook over the last quarter.
Today, Meta has published its latest ‘Widely Viewed Content Report’, which highlights the most-viewed organic content in Facebook Feeds by US-based users throughout the first quarter of 2022.
Meta came up with the report to counter the narrative that its algorithms help to amplify right-wing and extremist content, which is largely in response to this Twitter profile which highlights the most shared Facebook links each day, and has been widely quoted in such criticism.
The top-performing link posts by U.S. Facebook pages in the last 24 hours are from:
3. E! News
4. Ben Shapiro
5. ABC News
8. The Hollywood Reporter
9. Good Morning America
— Facebook’s Top 10 (@FacebooksTop10) May 15, 2022
Meta published its first Widely Viewed Content Report last August, and since then, it hasn’t really helped to dispel any such concerns, with many of the links included in its most-shared listings removed by Facebook’s moderators for violating platform policies.
So how does this latest update fare on this front?
As you can see in this element, which lists the most widely viewed links from Facebook referrals in Q1, two of the top shared URLs were eventually found to be in violation of Facebook policy – after they’d gleaned a cumulative 60 million impressions via Facebook traffic.
That’s not ideal – but don’t worry, Meta has also updated its methodology on this element to ensure that it more accurately reflects what users are actually seeing in the app, with links that don’t render previews no longer being counted in this category moving forward.
The above listing uses the old methodology, while this listing uses the new process:
Oh. That’s not any better.
As you can see, 6 of the top 20 most shared links on Facebook in Q1 were eventually found to be in violation of Facebook’s policies, but they had already received a collective 112 million views before Facebook’s moderators removed them.
So the report shows that Meta is amplifying questionable content, but we have no way of knowing exactly what that content is or was because Meta has chosen not to report the details.
Though it did provide this explanation:
“In this report, there were pieces of content that have since been removed from Facebook for violating our policies of Inauthentic Behavior. The removed links were all from the same domain, and links to that domain are no longer allowed on Facebook.”
Further investigation has found that the domain in question is a spammy news site called Naye News, which has never appeared in Facebook’s listings before.
But Facebook itself chose not to report the full detail, avoiding the full context here.
So the value of the report is…?
This has been the key question about the report since its inception, with Meta actually scrapping an initial version of its Widely Viewed Content listing because it reinforced the existing criticisms of the app, rather than helped to dispute the negative impacts of Facebook’s amplification.
It’s hard to see this data doing anything else, with Facebook’s own internal insights showing that content against its own rules is getting huge reach, even if it is eventually removed.
In looking at the other links on this list, there are COVID conspiracy theories, Minion memes, political activist films, and ‘Zillow Gone Wild’.
It’s not great – and while Meta says that the most popular links ‘ranged from humor, culture, to DIY’, the truth, in its own data, is that misinformation, divisive content and other material that violates its own rules is being amplified by its systems.
Of course, Meta says that this is still only a fraction of what people see in its apps.
“Even though our most viewed content might have a very large number of content viewers, as measured as a percentage of all of Facebook content viewers, they represent only a small fraction of total views in Feed in the US that quarter. In short, it is uncommon for different people to see the same content in their Feed.”
That may be true, but the impact is still significant – and as we’ve noted previously the comparative flaw in this report, versus the daily top 10 most shared links listing, is that this is the most shared content over a three month period, when news stories will only be relevant day-to-day. Sure, you might see a recipe post get more clicks, cumulatively, over a month, but a divisive news story will only generate traffic for a tiny fraction of the time, making direct comparisons difficult.
Meta does also share a listing of the most viewed domains to provide some transparency on this front, but the variability of the specific URLs within each also makes this hard to measure.
What YouTube clips were being shared? What TikTok clips? What tweets? In aggregate, this may show that, say, Fox News is not as popular as the daily Top 10 list may suggest. But it’s still not overly transparent as to what Facebook’s systems seek to amplify.
Which is the key element here. Meta’s essentially trying to shift the narrative that its algorithms amplify divisive, questionable, harmful content – yet its own data doesn’t really reflect that. The fact of the matter is that the content that performs best on Facebook is content that inspires emotional response, and anger is a key driver in inspiring engagement activity.
News publishers have shifted their approaches to lean into this, knowing that if they take a more partisan stance, that will trigger even more debate, and drive stronger sharing performance in the app. So while Meta may be keen to point out that such content ‘represents only a small fraction of total views in Feed’, the indisputable truth is that the entire news ecosystem has been changed by Meta’s algorithmic amplification, which incentivizes more divisive, argumentative and misleading takes.
Meta can try all that it wants to put its hands in the air and say that it’s a people problem, that it’s not responsible for what people share in its apps. But the attempt to counter these criticisms with its own, alternative, selective reportage is, as displayed in this data set, largely useless.
There are real problems with the online news ecosystem, and the incentive systems that digital platforms have embedded. Acknowledging such is a key step in finding solutions – whereas countering such in this form seems like a stubborn, protectionist approach that avoids the core problems at play.
You can read Meta’s Widely Viewed Content Report for Q1 2022 here.
Instagram Expands Access to Reels Templates, Adds New Music Recommendations for Reels Clips
Looking to get into Instagram Reels, but not sure what to post?
This could help – over the last week, Instagram has been giving more users access to its Reels ‘Templates’ option, which enables you to create Reels based on popular content formats in the app.
As you can see in this example, shared by user Ahmed Ghanem, some people are now seeing the new ‘Templates’ option within the Reels camera, which enables you to select a format for your Reel based on popular trends.
Instagram initially launched its Templates option back in April, which takes users through a frame-by-frame process to create a similar-looking Reels clip.
So if you lack creativity, now Instagram will do the creative framing for you, which could be handy, as a means to create more engaging clips.
But it could also make a lot more of your Reels feed look familiar, due to replication of the same types of clips over and over again, while it also leans on the talents of trendsetters within the app. Which TikTok has come under scrutiny for in the past, and it’ll be interesting to see whether creators start to question the re-use of their formats in this way.
But if you do need help, maybe it’ll come in handy – and that’s not the only way that IG is looking to lend a guiding hand in the Reels creation process.
According to another discovery by Ghanem, Instagram will also now recommend songs for your content, based on your upload.
How, exactly, Instagram recommends different songs for different clips is not clear, but based on these tools, you could essentially extricate yourself of almost all your creative content decisions – you just come up with what you want to film and Instagram’s recommendation tools and templates will do the rest.
Which seems to run counter to the whole ethos of the short-form video trend, which enables users to contribute to the latest trends and memes with their own, simple, creative takes. Indeed, what people like most about short-form content is that it provides more avenues for creativity, which makes these new features feel less genuine, and less interesting, even if they do help you get a few more Likes as a result.
Which they probably will, and for brands that are short on time, and are unable to keep up with the latest formats and tracks, they could be a big help (note: business accounts are limited in terms of what songs they can use in their clips).
But I don’t know. It feels a bit artificial, doesn’t it? Like, Meta is so keen to get as many people as possible posting short-form clips that it’s taking all of your own input and personality out of the process.
Maybe I’m over-thinking it – and really, what I am thinking is that someone should create an account that only posts videos using templates and song recommendations to see what sort of engagement it gets.
It could be massive – but it also feels like another step towards killing off the short-form video trend entirely by doing it to death.
Much like Stories before it – and, ultimately, that could be another way for Meta to negate competition.
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