Facebook: Why are people not engaging with what we tell them to look at?

If you want to know what's going on in the world of mainstream social media and cancel culture, there's one essential newsletter to look at. The Interface by Casey Newton from The Verge. I wrote about it a few weeks ago too.

Last night's newsletter covered a fundamental difference between what Facebook users find interesting enough to share and interact with and what Facebook's censors WANT people to share and interact with.

Here's a typical look at the top engaged posts on Facebook as reported by Kevin Roose of the New York Times. He posts a list like this every day on Twitter and they nearly always look the same.

Today's top-performing Facebook link posts by US pages are from:

1. Fox News
2. Ben Shapiro
3. Fox News
4. Ben Shapiro
5. Ben Shapiro
6. Ben Shapiro
7. Franklin Graham
8. Dan Bongino
9. Breitbart
10. CNN

— Kevin Roose (@kevinroose) July 21, 2020

And that is driving Facebook crazy as Casey writes:

It is also true that these tweets have been driving people at Facebook absolutely crazy. And the reason is that the way CrowdTangle measures the popularity of partisan links is not the way that Facebook, which owns the tool, thinks that we ought to be measuring popularity.

On Monday, the company decided that it had had enough. In response to Roose’s latest CrowdTangle tweet — showing a top five of Fox News, Fox News, Occupy Democrats, Ben Shapiro, Ben Shapiro — John Hegeman fired back.

John Hegeman, Head of News Feed at Facebook doesn't normally tweet, after all he's he's very senior at Twitter's number 1 competitor and has fewer than 1000 followers. But he chose to answer Kevin's tweets with a thread:

1/6 Some important things to consider about these lists. This isn’t a criticism of your analysis, because you’re working with accurate engagement data from @CrowdTangle. But these lists don’t represent what most people see on FB.

— John Hegeman (@johnwhegeman) July 20, 2020

As he points out, Kevin's data (showing populist and conservative content dominating engagement) comes from a tool called CrowdTangle which Facebook bought in 2016. It's not open to you and me but important people like journalists at the New York Times can see it.

What he counters with is fascinating because it is data that, as far as I know, is internal to Facebook.

6/6 As you've noted, some authoritative sources on COVID information (ie UNICEF, AARP) get more amplification by us. We are removing them from this list since you did, but the fact remains that these posts still get high reach and would otherwise be included in the Top 10. pic.twitter.com/92dWtpKtii

— John Hegeman (@johnwhegeman) July 20, 2020

This is what the Head of News says gets the most REACH. I.e. the stuff people are being SHOWN, but not what they're interacting with.

Casey again:

The first is by what social media heads call “engagement,” or interactions — likes, comments, shares. This is what CrowdTangle measures, and Roose is representing in his tweets. Note that CrowdTangle measures only interactions on posts from publisher pages — if someone shares a New York Times link to their own page, it doesn’t get counted.

The second is by what we call “reach” — the number of people who scrolled by the link in their News Feed, regardless of whether they clicked it or engaged with it in any way.

I can only draw one conclusion from this and it matches what I knew back when I was managing a high traffic Facebook page with the highest levels of engagement on Facebook for any political figure in the UK. Facebook's internal political pressure from a predominantly "social justice" oriented workforce are deeply upset when ideas and people they hate prove popular. Their only impulse when faced with this is censorship.

Product advertising is manipulative and does successfully drive behaviour: advertising works. But perhaps political propaganda disguised as news and forced into people's faces isn't as powerful as these platforms think.


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Most engaged posts on Facebook and Facebook's answer