This is a surprisingly difficult – and very important – question to answer. Facebook is the most popular social network in the world, and is used by roughly 7 in 10 Americans, roughly half of whom visit the site multiple times a day. 36% of Americans report that they regularly read news on Facebook. This means that Facebook could be a powerful vector for sharing misinformation or extremism that readers interpret as news.
Journalist Kevin Roose began publishing a Twitter feed in July 2020 that showcased the 10 “top performing” links on Facebook as determined by Facebook’s Crowdtangle analytics tool. Most days, the “top performing” links come from right-wing commentators and provocateurs like Dan Bongino, Ben Shapiro, Fox News and others. This seems to contradict the popular narrative that Facebook is biased against conservatives and suggests, instead that conservatives – and particularly incendiary ones – thrive on the platform.
Facebook really doesn’t like this feed. A few weeks after Roose began the project, John Hegeman – the head of Facebook’s news feed – took to Twitter to explain that Roose was tracking “engagement” – the number of people who liked, commented on or shared a given story. A better way to understand popularity of stories on Facebook was “reach”, i.e., the number of feeds a story appeared in. Facebook’s reach statistics show that mainstream news content is far more common on Facebook than the far-right content Roose was featuring. In my personal favorite part of the Twitter thread (now deleted) Hegeman conceded that Roose came to reasonable conclusions given the data he had, and that Hegeman couldn’t share the data that illustrated his points, though Facebook was exploring making it public.