Facebook decided not to publicize a report about the most-viewed content in the first three months of the year because of concerns the data could make the company look bad, The New York Times reported on Friday.
The Times, citing internal emails, said that Alex Schultz, Facebook’s vice president of analytics and chief marketing officer, and other executives debated whether the results of the report would harm Facebook’s image. The report showed that most-viewed link in the first quarter was a news article from The South Florida Sun Sentinel and republished by The Chicago Tribune with the headline “A ‘healthy’ doctor died two weeks after getting a COVID-19 vaccine; CDC is investigating why.” The Epoch Times, a far-right media outlet, was also the 19th-most-popular page on the platform.
The revelations raises questions about whether Facebook is selectively publishing data that helps the company fights back against concerns that polarizing content spreads widely on the platform. The Biden Administration and other politicians has also urged the social network to do more to combat COVID-19 misinformation that could make people hesitant to get vaccinated.
Facebook didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Andy Stone, a spokesman for the company, tweeted that “we ultimately held it because there were fixes we needed to make.” He also pointed out that the most-viewed headline came from a authoritative news source.
Facebook executives have reportedly raised concerns before about information from a data analytics tool that Facebook owns called CrowdTangle that shows high engagement with right-wing sites. On Wednesday, Facebook published for the first time a report that included what domains, links, pages and posts were the most widely viewed in the US on Facebook during the second quarter, which is between April and June.
The most viewed domain in the second quarter was YouTube. The most viewed link was the Player Alumni Resources, and the top page was from Unicef. The most viewed post was an image from a motivational speaker that asked people about the first words they see in a block of letters.
Company executives said during a press call that it released the data as part of its broader commitment around transparency. But some people, including former vice president of product marketing at Facebook Brian Boland, said the report “fails to deliver on the transparency it promises” because there’s limitations to the data and he finds it “useless.”
“After reading through the press release and the report itself I came away believing that this entire effort is a PR stunt,” he said in a Medium post.