Facebook craves credibility. But the top publisher last month for the 1.5 billion daily users on the social media network, the British site LadBible.com, is unlikely to deliver it.
Facebook has endured years of withering criticism for allowing or enabling online harassment, conspiracy theories, and propaganda to rage nearly unchecked on the platform. The frustration exploded into the open last year after US intelligence groups affirmed Russia had conducted “an unprecedented influence campaign to interfere in the U.S. electoral and political process” with a “clear preference for President-elect Trump.“
In response, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg testified before a US congressional hearing this week that the company was cracking down. “We’re investing heavily in people and technology to keep our community safe and keep our service secure. This includes using artificial intelligence to help find bad content and locate bad actors,” she told the panel. “We’re shutting down fake accounts and reducing the spread of false news.” Earlier this year, the social media giant had rolled out a feature displaying context about news sources, including publishers’ Wikipedia entries, and where and by whom its articles are shared, and made algorithmic changes designed to discourage bad actors.
It still has a long way to go. Data analyzed by social media analytics firm NewsWhip shows the ranks of Facebook’s top publishers remain rife with “viral content farms” and hyperpartisan sites spewing misinformation, not to mention a few credible outlets such as the BBC or The Washington Post.
To gauge this, NewsWhip ranked Facebook engagement with publishers and specific stories using Facebook’s Graph API. It ranked content based on the number of likes, shares, and comments associated with specific web links. Stories published natively on Facebook’s own platform were not included.
The results show mainstream publishers often losing out to fringe sites, content farms and, in the case of two “viral publishers,” LADbible and UNILAD, outlets that appeal primarily to young, mostly male audience. In August, these two “lad” or “bro” sites soared in the rankings above CNN, Fox News, and the Daily Mail. NewsWhip stated it had seen “questionable, low-quality content going ultra-viral over the past few months,” including a thoroughly debunked story by everdayusefulinfo.blogspot.com entitled, “BURGER KING ADMITS TO USING HORSE MEAT IN BURGER, WHOPPERS” (it does not).
Still, not all the blame belongs on Facebook. The browsing public fuels misinformation by clicking, argues NewsWhip’s Gabriele Boland. “This says more about Facebook users and what they want to read/share, vs. Facebook itself,” she wrote on Twitter. “We want that Burger King horse meat conspiracy.”