Conservative outlets regularly have the top-performing posts on Facebook — but Facebook says the full picture is more complicated (FB)

  • The Facebook posts that generate the most interaction on the site most frequently come from conservative news outlets, according to metrics from Facebook-owned CrowdTangle.
  • Journalists and critics have repeatedly pointed out this fact to imply that Facebook could sway the opinions of its users towards right-wing beliefs.
  • But Facebook’s head of News Feed John Hegeman fired back on Wednesday, arguing that the “top posts” metric doesn’t tell the full story.
  • Hegeman said that, while posts from partisan outlets like the Daily Caller and Fox News tend to get the most interactions per day, news stories from more mainstream outlets like ABC and NBC reach more Facebook users, regardless of how many people interact with them.
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Fox News. Ben Shapiro. Fox News. Ben Shapiro. Ben Shapiro.

Those are the Facebook pages that published the five highest-performing posts on the social network Tuesday, according to data from Facebook’s internal metrics tool published by New York Times columnist Kevin Roose.

Roose for years has tweeted a list of the pages that posted the highest-performing Facebook posts of the day as measured by CrowdTangle, a Facebook tool that measures engagement on posts. The list is almost always dominated by hyper-partisan outlets, most of which are right-leaning.

Journalists and critics of Facebook have repeatedly circulated Roose’s lists because they appear to counter the claims made by Republican lawmakers that Facebook is biased against conservative outlets and users. The posts, they argue, show that Facebook’s algorithms could actually be swaying undecided people toward conservative viewpoints.

But for the first time, Facebook pushed back against that criticism this week. Facebook’s head of News Feed John Hegeman responded to one of Roose’s tweets, arguing that the data from Crowdtangle — while accurate — doesn’t tell the full story.

That’s because Crowdtangle ranks posts based on “engagement,” or the number of times users like, comment, or share the post in question. But according to Hegeman, a more accurate metric for understanding what news people see on Facebook is “reach,” or the number of people who saw a link in their news feed (even if the link was posted by multiple different pages or users).

Hegeman shared a list of links that had the widest reach on Facebook, compared with the posts with the highest engagement on the same day. On July 5, the posts with the highest engagement came from Franklin Graham, Ben Shapiro, Breitbart, ForAmerica, and CNN. By contrast, the links with the widest reach that day came from The Los Angeles Times, MSNBC, Ranker, BuzzFeed, and ABC News.

Those numbers suggest that, while people are more likely to engage with hyper-partisan content, the links that Facebook users actually encounter in their newsfeed are more likely to come from mainstream news outlets.

Hegemon’s explanation came after advertisers and lawmakers reportedly voiced concern about Roose’s tweets, according to The Verge‘s Casey Newton, who reports that the lists were “driving the company crazy.” Facebook is facing increasing backlash from advertisers over concerns about its algorithms and content moderation policies.

Facebook is now looking to make reach data public through CrowdTangle, Hegemon said. Roose advocated for the same in response to Hegemon, pointing out that he’s simply been sharing data from Facebook’s own metrics tool.

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