But in trying to do that, it demonstrates something else: the most popular content on Facebook is often terrible, recycled generic memes.
It’s not necessarily surprising that reposting already popular memes is getting views on Facebook, but “it’s imperative to monitor where the attention gathered from this content is directed” to catch attempts to direct that attention to fraud, extremism and misinformation, says Karan Lala, a fellow and managing editor at the Integrity Institute, an organization founded by former employees of Facebook’s integrity team to research and advise the public about the inner workings of social media platforms. Lala recently published a study on the spam economy on Facebook.
The top 20 posts by Facebook views in the latest report are overwhelmingly reposted memes that were originally created for other platforms. Many of the pages responsible for them belong to viral Instagram accounts with names like Ideas365 or Factsdailyy. There are two meme reposts in support of Johnny Depp on the list, with nearly 100 million views between them. Two of the top 20 most viewed posts are not listed in the report because Meta removed them for violating its intellectual property policies or inauthentic behavior.
The main issue here isn’t necessarily one of safety: Facebook’s most popular content feels more like boom bait than something designed to attract engagement from the younger audience Meta is courting. But as Lala points out, relatively benign meme accounts and potentially harmful accounts that post memes to draw attention to somewhere in particular are hard to distinguish on the surface.
Ideas365 and Factsdailyy initially seem similar: both are meme accounts on Instagram that get massive amounts of views on Facebook. They each post about half a dozen short videos a day. Their content is general. But upon closer inspection, Lala noted some key differences: Factsdailyy’s bio includes contact information, and each post credits the source of the meme it’s reposting. At a glance, this account is probably just a regular old meme account.
In contrast, Ideas365—the page that posted Family feud video at the top of Facebook’s most-viewed list this quarter — driving traffic to a site selling courses to make money selling stuff on Amazon. Although the account credits the source of some memes, it uses the attention those memes attract to promote questionable services. His featured stories advertise a “mentorship” program that promises to teach students how to create automated Instagram accounts for profit. “The user behind the account mentions that he owns over 250 themed Instagram pages and earns ‘hundreds of thousands a month’ from his phone. It’s also full of show-off videos of the user’s many luxury cars,” Lala added.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being a spam meme page. The harm here isn’t that the account uses short Meta videos to get people to sign up for an expensive course, Lala says: “As election season approaches, it’s important to note that this attention can be just as easily targeted to misinformation or other harm using such tactics. Last year, the MIT Technology Review revealed the extent to which global content farms are adept at using Meta’s proprietary incentive structures to profit directly from popular content, whether it’s celebrity breakup memes or disinformation about a controversial issue.
Meta also provides data on the most viewed external links and domains. In that report, five of the top 20 links were removed for inauthentic behavior (the top link was, of course, to TikTok). And the list of the most widely viewed domains — perhaps the part of this report designed to counter CrowdTangle’s data most directly — shows a mix of competitors like YouTube and TikTok, major news sites and GoFundMe.