Facebook releases shelved content transparency report after criticism it wasn’t being transparent

Facebook published a report (.pdf), late Saturday, about its most-viewed posts during the first quarter 2021. It had originally canceled the report because it was deemed too negative.
The New York Times first reported that the Q1 report was available before Facebook published it. It also revealed that a news story about a Florida doctor's death could be linked to the COVID-19 vaccination.

Andy Stone, Facebook's policy communications manager, tweeted Saturday that Facebook had not been unfairly criticised for not publishing the report. He tried to explain the complex nature of Facebook's handling of the most-viewed link.

News outlets reported on the death of a doctor in south Florida. The Chicago Tribune added an update to the original story when the coroner gave a cause for death. NYTimes didn't. Stone tweeted that it would have been fair to remove the Times article because it contained COVID misinformation. No. This is not what anyone is suggesting, and neither am I. It does show how difficult it can be to decipher misinformation.

Stone stated that Facebook withheld the January-March reports because of key system fixes. However, he tweeted a link for the Q1 report.

Concerning the unreleased reports from earlier in the year and the reasons we kept them. It was important that we made key changes to the system. We decided to keep it. Andy Stone (@andymstone), August 21, 2021

Facebook published a report on August 18th that showed the top-viewed content from its public News Feed between April and June, its second quarter. The report paints a more positive picture of Facebook. Q2's most-viewed post was a word puzzle asking users to identify the first three words that they saw. Between April and June, the second most popular Facebook post asked users aged over 30 to upload a photo of themselves. YouTube, UNICEF and Spotify were the most viewed domains. CBS News was also a top ten viewed site. A GIF of kittens and a UNICEF page on India's COVID-19 crisis were among the top ten most viewed Facebook links in Q2.

Although it is not clear why Facebook released these reports of popular content, criticisms of the platform's handling of misleading COVID-19 information have been mounting over recent weeks. Biden's administration has asked Facebook and other social media platforms for better handling misleading or false information regarding COVID-19 vaccinations.

One reason for Facebook's transparency reports may be Kevin Roose, a New York Times tech columnist, who used CrowdTangle, Facebook's content analytics platform, to compile and publish daily lists highlighting the top-performing US Facebook pages. These lists often included pages dedicated to former President Trump and right-leaning pundits such as Ben Shapiro or Dan Bongino. According to reports, the lists caused irritation at Facebook.

Facebook did not respond to a Sunday morning request for comment. The full Q1 transparency report can be viewed below.