Last week, Facebook published a content transparency report for the first time, covering Q2 2021. Then, it emerged that an earlier Q1 report was produced, but was not released because it contained evidence that misinformation about COVID-19 was among the most-viewed articles on the platform.
On Saturday, Facebook communications executive Andy Stone tweeted a link to a file containing a previously unreleased Q1 “content transparency report”. Subsequently, the link expired. This is the document that was published:Q1-Content-Transparency-Report-V0-US-internal-copy-1-1-1
Facebook had prepared a similar report for the first three months of the year, but executives never shared it with the public because of concerns that it would look bad for the company, according to internal emails sent by executives and shared with The New York Times.
In that report, a copy of which was provided to The Times, the most-viewed link was a news article with a headline suggesting that the coronavirus vaccine was at fault for the death of a Florida doctor. The report also showed that a Facebook page for The Epoch Times, an anti-China newspaper that spreads right-wing conspiracy theories, was the 19th-most-popular page on the platform for the first three months of 2021.
The report was nearing public release when some executives, including Alex Schultz, Facebook’s vice president of analytics and chief marketing officer, debated whether it would cause a public relations problem, according to the internal emails. The company decided to shelve it.
Justin Hendrix is CEO and Editor of Tech Policy Press, a new nonprofit media venture concerned with the intersection of technology and democracy. Previously, he was Executive Director of NYC Media Lab. He spent over a decade at The Economist in roles including Vice President, Business Development & Innovation. He is an associate research scientist and adjunct professor at NYU Tandon School of Engineering. Opinions expressed here are his own.