K-Pop stans and dog advice posts are the early benefactors of some possible Facebook algorithm and reporting changes, but the Dinesh D'Souzas and Ben Shapiros of the world are sharp at adapting to game the system.
Ask anyone named Mark Zuckerberg what their most despised account on Twitter is, and he will likely tell you that it’s Facebook’s Top 10, an account created by the New York Times tech columnist Kevin Roose that details what the top-performing Facebook link posts are from the previous day according to some engagement metrics on CrowdTangle — the data tool that Facebook acquired in 2016. And Zuckerberg hates this, because as seen in the Top 10 post below from exactly one week ago, these lists tend to be dominated by the conservative grievance sites who still complain they’re being “silenced by big tech.”
The top-performing link posts by U.S. Facebook pages in the last 24 hours are from:— Facebook's Top 10 (@FacebooksTop10) August 18, 2021
1. Ben Shapiro
2. Journal Star
4. Nick Adams
6. Ben Shapiro
7. Donald Trump For President
8. News And Guts
9. Love Meow
10. Love Meow
But something changed recently, and it’s probably no coincidence that the change comes on the heels of Facebook now releasing their most widely viewed content reports that are likely a pushback against Roose’s reporting. These reports claim that more innocuous content is dominating the platform. “The top five links include a website for alumni of the Green Bay Packers football team, a random online CBD marketplace and reppnforchrist.com, an apparently prominent portal for Christianity-themed graphic T-shirts,” TechCrunch says of the most recent report. “The subscription page for the Epoch Times, a site well known for spreading pro-Trump conspiracies and other disinformation, comes in at No 10, though it was beaten by a Tumblr link to two cats walking with their tails intertwined.”
While Facebook has been working hard to discredit it, the composition of this list has been changing...a lot recently?— Kevin Roose (@kevinroose) August 24, 2021
Probably a combo of summer news cycle, Rumble/Gettr sapping some right-wing engagement, and ______. (Feel free to fill in the blank in my DMs, FB employees!) https://t.co/RT52HvfFdV
And Roose has noted a change in his results, seeing more NPR, MovieWeb, and allkpop results in his lists. “While Facebook has been working hard to discredit it, the composition of this list has been changing... a lot recently?,” he tweeted Tuesday. “Probably a combo of summer news cycle, Rumble/Gettr sapping some right-wing engagement, and ______. (Feel free to fill in the blank in my DMs, FB employees!)”
And hey FB employees, do not reach out to Roose using Messenger.
The top-performing link posts by U.S. Facebook pages in the last 24 hours are from:— Facebook's Top 10 (@FacebooksTop10) August 25, 2021
1. Daily Paws
2. Franklin Graham
3. Rolling Stone
5. Ted Cruz
6. Dan Bongino
7. Dinesh D'Souza
8. Ben Shapiro
9. Franklin Graham
10. My Modern Met
The change may have just been a blip. If we look at today’s Facebook’s Top 10 post (which represents yesterday’s data, see above), we see seven of the top 10 are again posts from wingnut sites/right-wing pundits. If you’re not familiar, Franklin Graham is the Rev. Billy Graham’s Trumper son; NumbersUSA is an "immigration-reduction site" that claims to be "pro-immigrant" but you can judge for yourself; and Dan Bongino, Dinesh D'Souza, and Ben Shapiro are broadly popular right-wing assholes.
Are the Trumperistas adapting to the new algorithms? Or are the algorithms themselves in flux?
It could be both, and it could be neither. Facebook uses a tool called Crowdtangle to measure posts’ performance. Some of that data is made public, which Roose uses to create his daily lists. Other data is not. Facebook argues that “reach,” not engagement, is the true source of a post’s popularity, and reach data is not made public.
How much Facebook allows reporters and the public transparency into the rankings of popular content on the platform seems to continue to be a point of contention within the company. In a lengthy piece last month, Roose reported that “Several [Facebook] executives proposed making reach data public on CrowdTangle, in hopes that reporters would cite that data instead of the engagement data they thought made Facebook look bad," but that “One issue was that false and misleading news stories also rose to the top of those lists."
As we noted last month, via Roose's reporting, Facebook is apparently dismantling the CrowdTangle team and trying to downplay why that it is happening — but it's likely because the tool itself, while helpful for publishers and journalists alike, hasn't been great for PR.
Related: Eight Months Into National Vaccine Effort, Facebook Says It's Removed Anti-Vaxx Misinformation Superspreaders [SFist]
Image: @timothyhalesbennett via Unsplash