Late Saturday, Facebook released its first 2021 quarterly report about the most viewed posts in the United States. The social media firm had initially shelved this report because it ruined the company’s image.
In the report, a copy of which was initially provided to The New York Times, the most-viewed link was a news article with a headline suggesting that the coronavirus vaccine was the real culprit behind the death of a Florida doctor.
In the light of the current event, Facebook policy communications manager Andy Stone tweeted that the criticism Facebook faced for making the report public “wasn’t unfair.” She said:
“News outlets wrote about the south Florida doctor that died. When the coroner released a cause of death, the Chicago Tribune appended an update to its original story; NYTimes did not. Would it have been right to remove the Times story because it was COVID misinfo?” Stone tweeted. “Of course not. No one is actually suggesting this, and neither am I. But it does illustrate just how difficult it is to define misinformation.”
“Facebook had withheld the January-March report because there were key fixes to the system we wanted to make,” said Stone. However, he didn’t further intricate on what those fixes were. In addition, he tweeted a link to the Q1 report.
Facebook somewhat released a report on August 18th that showcased a brighter image of the company. The most popular and viewed domains included YouTube, UNICEF, Spotify, and CBS News. In Q2, the top ten most-viewed links on Facebook were a GIF of kittens and a UNICEF response page for India’s COVID-19 crisis.
According to the New York Times, the report was ready for public release when some executives debated that it might cause a public relations problem. Therefore, the company decided to shelve it.
“We considered making the report public earlier,” said Andy Stone, “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.”
The controversy of the company misleading COVID-19 information has been escalating in recent weeks. First, the Biden administration accused the company of “killing people” by allowing false information to circulate widely, a statement the White House later tempered. In response, Mark Zuckerberg, its chief executive, has said the platform has been removing Covid-19 misinformation since the start of the pandemic. The company said it had removed over 18 million pieces of misinformation to date.
However, Brian Boland, a former vice president of product marketing at Facebook, recently said that there are various reasons to be dubious about data collected and released by a company that has a record of protecting its own interests.