- Facebook withheld a first quarter popular content report for fear of backlash, The New York Times reported on Friday.
- Facebook released the report on Saturday, which says the platform’s most popular article casts doubt on the COVID-19 vaccine.
- A Facebook spokesperson said the article “illustrates how difficult it is to define disinformation.”
The top performing Facebook link in the United States from January to March suggested the COVID-19 vaccine could be deadly, according to a report released on Saturday by the social media giant which identified the most popular content on the platform. form from January to March.
Facebook has come under close scrutiny this year because of the disinformation about COVID-19 that has been shared on the platform, with President Joe Biden saying earlier this year that Facebook is “killing people.” (He then returned to the comments.)
Earlier this week, Facebook released a report that identified popular content from April through June, prompting questions about why the data was not released for the first quarter of the year. The top performing links in the Q2 report were mostly harmless content, like sports, recipes, and animals.
But The New York Times reported on Friday that the first quarter report was intentionally withheld by senior executives for fear of backlash.
Read more: This startup is working with Facebook and Google to keep internet users away from disinformation. Get an exclusive look at the pitch deck he used to land $ 7 million in VCs.
The first quarter report, released the day after the Times report, showed that the most popular URL on Facebook was an article published by the Sun-Sentinel and distributed by the Chicago Tribune. The title of the article suggested that the COVID-19 vaccine may have caused the death of a Florida doctor who died two weeks after being vaccinated.
A medical examiner’s report later revealed that there was not enough evidence to determine if the vaccine played a role in his death, and an update was added to the story to reflect this .
Over 53 million people have viewed the article in their news feed. The report also states that the platform’s 19th most popular page in the first three months of 2021 was for The Epoch Times, a right-wing anti-China newspaper that promoted conspiracy theories.
When reached via email, Facebook directed Insider to a Twitter feed shared by spokesperson Andy Stone. Stone said the article about the Florida doctor, which was factually accurate, “illustrates how difficult it is to define misinformation.”
Stone also said that Facebook initially withheld the Q1 report “because there were key system fixes that we wanted to make,” although it’s not clear what those fixes were.
“We are guilty of cleaning up our house a bit before we invited from the company,” he said.
The report released on Saturday says the 20 most popular links on Facebook collectively represent just 0.057% of content views on the platform, which hosts more than 2.8 billion monthly users.
Facebook said it plans to continue publishing quarterly reports on the platform’s most popular content as part of its efforts to be transparent.
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