Facebook has released a new transparency report on the most viewed posts on the platform. The company would have initially withheld this report because it would put the platform in a bad light.
Facebook released its first official content transparency report last week, covering the second quarter of this year. That report showed that innocent messages in particular were the most popular on the platform during that period. The most shared domains included YouTube, Amazon and Unicef.
However, the company is said to have previously prepared a report for the first quarter of 2021, but ultimately did not publish it. That wrote journalists from The New York Times, who have seen the internal report. The company would have done so because this report would put Facebook in a bad light.
That withheld report reported that the most popular Facebook post in the first quarter was a Chicago Tribune news item. That article had a headline suggesting that a corona vaccine was the cause of death for a deceased Florida doctor; a scenario examined by the US health institute CDC. It later emerged that this doctor’s death was caused by “a condition that caused internal bleeding,” with insufficient evidence that the vaccine played a role.
The New York Times writes that the report was about to be published, after which some Facebook executives debated whether the report would cause a PR problem. In its own words, the news medium relies on internal e-mails from the company. Facebook would then have decided to put the report on hold. Facebook has since published this report via Dropbox, after reporting by The New York Times.
Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone writes on Twitter that the criticism the company has received about this is ‘not unfair’. He writes that they withheld the report because they wanted to make ‘major improvements’ to the system. He does not discuss what these improvements entail.
Stone also cites the complexity of that most-watched news item. “News media wrote about the deceased doctor in Florida. When the coroner announced the cause of death, the Chicago Tribune added an update to the original story; the New York Times did not,” Stone said. “Would it have been right to remove the Times story because it was covid disinformation? Of course not. Nobody is actually suggesting this and neither am I. But it does illustrate how difficult it is to define disinformation,” the spokesperson wrote.