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Facebook's most popular post cast doubt on vaccination

Peter Griffin, Editor. 24 August 2021, 9:17 am

Of the millions of items of content shared on Facebook in the first three months of the year, the one that reached the most eyeballs in the US became a rallying cry for anti-vaxxers.

A Chicago Tribune article covering the story of a Florida doctor who had died two weeks after receiving a Covid-19 vaccination was viewed around 54 million times on Facebook. But the New York Times claims that Facebook delayed the release of its quarterly popularity report because it was worried about the damage it might do to Facebook's credibility.

Facebook only released the report following the New York Times coverage of the issue and put the delay down to "bugs" in the information gathering process needing to be ironed out. 

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Cleaning house or delaying bad news? Facebook's explanation.

The social media giant has for years now been criticised for its role in spreading misinformation. President Joe Biden last month expressed his frustration with Facebook remarking that it was "killing people" in allowing misinformation about the pandemic to spread.

He later walked back his comments slightly.

"My hope is that Facebook, instead of taking it personally … that they would do something about the misinformation, the outrageous misinformation about the vaccine. That's what I meant," he said at the White House. 

 The local coroner in Florida found that Dr Gregory Michael died of immune thrombocytopenia, which prevents blood from clotting. It was unrelated to the vaccine shot he had received. The article reporting his death was later updated with the coroner's verdict, but in the meantime had amassed a huge audience on Facebook.

While circulation of that article won't have done anything to encourage Americans to get vaccinated against the virus, other high ranking articles for the quarter show successful efforts by aid agency Unicef to get information out about the pandemic. It had five of the most viewed articles in the top 10, including a piece on how to access Covid-19 vaccines in West and Central Africa. The agency's top 10-ranked articles amassed around 200 million views.

Facebook points out that the most popular articles on its platform make up just a tiny fraction of overall content viewed. But its second-quarter popularity report was less problematic and received a swift release. It showed that a word search promising to reveal "your reality" was the most popular for the period.


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