Facebook claims most users don’t see that much political content

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“This tool was built to help people get some idea of what content will get likes, comments and reshares,” Schultz writes. “But it is not designed to show what is being seen the most.”

Instead, Schultz argues that “reach”  — the posts that show up in front of the highest-number of users — is a more accurate measure of what most people see on the social network. Though CrowdTangle doesn’t provide this data, and Facebook doesn’t typically make it available to reporters, he shared some stats on the highest-performing Facebook pages by reach during the week before the election. 

Facebook's ranking of the top Pages in the US the week prior to the election.

Facebook

Among the top pages by reach: purveyor of cute animal videos The Dodo, magician Rick Lax, Family Feud host Steve Harvey and the AARP. Meanwhile, the top publisher domains by reach during the same week were cnn.com, foxnews.com, nbcnews.com. washingtonpost.com, and nytimes.com. 

All of this may sound like a lot hair splitting: most users likely don’t care too much whether a given post has a higher “reach” or higher “engagement.” But for Facebook it’s an increasingly important distinction. The company has faced criticism for not doing more to fight polarization, despite research that its algorithms exploit “divisiveness.” And the posts ranked by CrowdTangle, which measures “engagement,” often reflect more divisive content rather than the mainstream news and mostly-wholesome pages listed by Facebook as getting the biggest “reach.” 

Facebook's ranking of top publisher domains the week prior to the election.

Facebook

On the other hand, the reason why reporters and researchers use CrowdTangle is because it’s one of the few ways outsiders can gain visibility into how content moves around the social network. And CrowdTangle doesn’t provide any insight into the “reach” metric Facebook now says is a better measure of its platform. And, as New York Times reporter Kevin Roose points out, unless Facebook starts making this information more readily available, it’s difficult to gauge which pages and publishers are really getting the most eyeballs.

When it comes to 2020 election-related content, we may one day know more. Schultz says Facebook plans to work with outside researchers to analyze “what happened on Facebook during this election cycle,” with research papers on the issue expected some time in 2021.

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