But in trying to do that, show one more thing: The most popular content on Facebook is often horrific, recycled generic memes.
It’s not necessarily surprising that reposts of already popular memes get views on Facebook, but it is “necessary to monitor where the attention this content gains are directed” to catch attempts to divert that attention to discord, extremism and disinformation, says Karan Lala, a fellow and editor-in-chief at the Integrity Institute, an organization founded by former Facebook Integrity employees to research and advise the public on the inner workings of social media platforms. Lala recently published a research In the Facebook spam economy.
The top 20 posts by views on Facebook in the latest report are overwhelmingly reposted memes that were originally created for other platforms. A lot of the pages I’m responsible for belong to Instagram viral content accounts with names like Ideas365 or Factsdailyy. There are two reposts of pro-Johnny Depp memes on the list, with nearly 100 million views in between. Two of the 20 most viewed posts were not included in the report because Meta removed them for violating their intellectual property policies or inauthentic behavior.
The main issue here isn’t necessarily a security issue: Facebook’s most popular content looks a lot more like Boomer’s taste than it does something designed to attract engagement from younger audiences flirting with Meta. But as Lala notes, relatively benign meme accounts and potentially malicious accounts spread memes In order to attract attention to a place specific hard to distinguish on the surface.
Ideas365 and Factsdailyy look alike at first: they are both Instagram meme accounts that get a massive amount of views on Facebook. They each post about half a dozen short videos per day. Its content is public. But looking closely, Lala notices a few key differences: Factsdailyy’s bio contains contact information, and every post brings back the source of the meme he’s reposting. At a glance, this account is likely just a regular old meme account.
By contrast, Ideas365—the page that posted a file family feud Video at the top of Facebook’s most-watched list for the quarter – driving traffic to a site that sells courses to make money selling stuff on Amazon. While the account is credited with the source of some memes, it uses the attention that those memes get to to advertise questionable favors. Her Featured Stories advertise a mentorship program that promises to teach students how to create automated Instagram accounts for profit. “The user behind the account reports having over 250 thematic pages on Instagram and earning ‘hundreds of thousands a month’ from their phones. This is also complemented by videos bragging about the user’s many luxury cars.”
There’s nothing inherently wrong with a meme page being spam, of course. The harm here isn’t that the account uses short Meta videos to get people to sign up for an expensive course, says Lala: “As we head into election season, it’s important to note that this attention can easily be directed toward disinformation or other damages using similar tactics.” Last year, MIT Technology Review reveal to what extent Global content farms have become adept at using Meta’s incentive structures to directly profit from popular content, whether it’s images about a celebrity breakup or misinformation about a divisive issue.
The Meta also provides data about which external links and domains have been viewed. In this report, five of the top 20 links for inauthentic behavior have been removed (the top link was, of course, to TikTok). The list of the most widely viewed domains – perhaps the part of this report designed to directly confront CrowdTangle data – showed a mix of competitors such as YouTube, TikTok, major news sites and GoFundMe.