An overwhelming majority of the most popular Facebook posts in 2021 were posted by anonymous accounts and filled with unoriginal content, according to a new report.
The study, conducted by the Integrity Institute—a new nonprofit made up of former tech industry personnel focusing on internet integrity—found that most of Facebook’s top posts in 2021 did not pass various media literacy tests. It used data from Facebook’s Widely Viewed Content Report, which the company started publishing last year.
“Overall, there has been a fairly dramatic shift in content quality over the course of 2021, in a negative direction,” the study said. “By empowering content producers that fail the most basic media literacy checks with huge audiences, Facebook is exposing communities and users on their platform to large risks from bad actors wishing to exploit them for narrow self-interest.”
Posts were scored poorly by the Institute if it was difficult to find the name of the user behind the post and if the content was unoriginal, as well as if the posts were harmful or manipulative.
The Integrity Institute amalgamated these scores into an overall “media literacy check” that it used to qualify content in the report.
The most viewed pages on Facebook have sketchy transparency at best. The most-viewed Facebook page in Q4 of 2021—with over 121 million views—was disabled for violating community service guidelines, according to the Facebook report. The second-most viewed page, Thinkarete, promotes products from a website called Linda’s Kitchen. Linda’s Kitchen uses stock images on its about page and claims its CEO is named “Robert Downey Jr.,” and uses a stock web retail plugin for WordPress while referring to itself as “Martfury” on pages, which is the name of the plugin. Thinkarete, meanwhile, is run by “All Food Recipes Inc.” according to its Facebook page. All Food Recipes Inc. is allegedly based in Utah and owned by a person by a different name who lives in Arizona.
The fifth-most viewed page is Newsner, which Facebook said is run by “nyheter365 AB” which is not findable on Facebook. Newsner and “nyheter365 AB” seem to be related to the N365 group, a web-optimized content generation company based in Sweden that claims to be a “Meta Business Partner.” Both Thinkarete and Newsner, the report said, lack transparency and would be difficult to trace for someone who isn’t tech-savvy.
“As long as content that fails basic media literacy can gain broad distribution on the platform, the platform exposes all communities to exploitation,” the report said.
The data showed how easily groups can spread disinformation by exploiting Facebook’s algorithms. The report also states that Facebook and Instagram—which are owned by parent company Meta—are unique in their high prevalence of top-performing unoriginal and anonymous content, compared to other online sites.
The Integrity Institute offered possible solutions to Facebook’s problem at the end of the study, citing Google Search’s algorithm.
“Facebook could define anonymous and unoriginal content as ‘low quality,’ build a system to evaluate content quality, and incorporate those quality scores into their final ranking ‘value model,'” the report said.
Facebook did not immediately respond to an inquiry from the Daily Dot on the study.