Facebook put an earlier report on popular posts on hold in fear of public outcry

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    When Facebook released its first quarterly report on the United States’ top-viewed posts this week, its vice president of integrity Guy Rosen said the social network had “taken a long journey to be” by far the most transparent platform in the world “on the internet. , The list showed that the posts with the greatest reach were more of a harmless content like recipes and cute animals.

    Facebook had a similar report for the first three months of the year, but executives never shared it with the public because they feared it would look bad for the company, according to internal emails sent by executives and the New York Times were notified.

    In that report, a copy of which was made available to the Times, the most viewed link was a news article with a headline suggesting that the coronavirus vaccine was responsible for the death of a Florida doctor. The report also showed that a Facebook page of the Epoch Times, an anti-China newspaper spreading right-wing conspiracy theories, was ranked 19th most popular on the platform for the first three months of 2021.

    The report was about to be released when some executives, including Alex Schultz, Facebook’s vice president of analytics and chief marketing officer, debated whether it would cause a public relations issue, according to internal emails. The company decided to postpone it.

    “We considered getting the report out sooner,” said Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesman, “but knowing it was going to be the center of attention just like this week, we wanted to fix the system.

    Stone said Schultz was in favor of publishing the original report but eventually agreed to the recommendation to hold back.

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    Facebook hasn’t said why it decided to run a popularity report, but it is facing increasing scrutiny of the data it shares with the government and the public, particularly due to misinformation about the virus and vaccines. Criticism escalated as cases of the delta variant of the coronavirus rose. The White House has urged the company to share more information about inaccurate and misleading information on the website and better stop its spreading. Last month, President Joe Biden accused the company of “killing people by spreading false information, a statement that the White House later tempered. Other federal agencies have accused Facebook of withholding important data.

    Facebook has backed out and publicly accused the White House of scapegoating the company for failing to meet its vaccination goals. Facebook executives, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg, said the platform has been aggressively removing COVID-19 misinformation since the pandemic began. The company said it removed over 18 million pieces of misinformation during that period.

    Brian Boland, former vice president of product marketing at Facebook, said there are many reasons to be skeptical of data collected and published by a company that has a history of protecting its own interests.

    “You cannot trust a report that is curated by a company and is intended to combat press coverage rather than really useful transparency,” said Boland. “It’s up to regulators and government officials to give us that transparency.

    In this week’s report, which covered public content viewed on the Facebook news feed from April 1 to June 30, popular links included local news, a cat GIF, and a Green Bay Packers alumni website. Popular posts, seen by tens of millions of accounts, contained viral question-and-answer prompts and memes.

    Most of the company’s draft reports, such as Facebook released on Wednesday, showed that the top 20 most-viewed links on Facebook in the United States led to non-political content such as recipe pages and stories about the United Nations Children’s Fund.

    The rejected report also contained the article about the doctor’s death in Florida. The headline of the article by The South Florida Sun Sentinel and republished by The Chicago Tribune: “A ‘healthy’ doctor died two weeks after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine; CDC is investigating why.,

    This link has been viewed by nearly 54 million Facebook accounts in the US. Many commentators on the post asked questions about the safety of the vaccines. Six of the top 20 sharers came from public Facebook pages that regularly post anti-vaccination content on Facebook, according to data from CrowdTangle, a social media analytics company owned by Facebook. Other top dividers in the story included Filipino Facebook pages that support President Rodrigo Duterte, a pro-Israel Facebook group, and a page called “Just the Facts,” which claims to be “spreading the truth, even if the media.” don’t do it.

    Months later, the coroner’s report said there wasn’t enough evidence to say whether the vaccine contributed to the doctor’s death. Far fewer people on Facebook saw this update.

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