But in trying to do that, he showed 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 track where the attention this content is getting” to catch attempts to direct that attention to scams, extremism and misinformation, says Karan Lala, a contributor. and editor-in-chief of the Integrity Institute, an organization founded by former employees of Facebook’s integrity team to investigate and advise the public on the inner workings of social media platforms. Lala recently published research into the Facebook spam economy.
The top 20 posts by number of views on Facebook in the latest report are mostly reposted memes originally created for other platforms. Many of the pages responsible for them belong to viral Instagram accounts with names like Ideas365 or Factsdailyy. The list includes two Johnny Depp meme reposts, with nearly 100 million views between them. Two of the top 20 most viewed posts were not listed in the report because they were removed by Meta for violating its intellectual property policy or inauthentic behavior.
The main issue here isn’t necessarily safety: Facebook’s most popular content looks more like boomer bait than something designed to engage the younger audience Meta is courting. But as Lala notes, relatively benign meme accounts and potentially harmful accounts that post memes to divert attention somewhere specific are difficult to distinguish on the surface.
Ideas365 and Factsdailyy seem similar at first: they are both Instagram meme accounts that have a huge amount of views on Facebook. They each post about half a dozen short videos a day. Their content is generic. But looking closer, Lala noticed some key differences: Factsdailyy’s bio includes contact information, and each post cites the source of the meme it’s reposting. On the surface, this account is probably just a regular old meme account.
In contrast, Ideas365—the site that published Family Feud video at the top of Facebook’s most viewed list this quarter—drives traffic to a site that sells courses to make money selling stuff on Amazon. Although the account credits the source of some of the memes, it uses the attention those memes attract to advertise 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 Instagram stories and makes ‘hundreds of thousands a month’ on his phone. This is complemented by flashy videos of numerous luxury car users,” added Lala.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being a spam meme page. The harm here isn’t that the account is using short videos on Meta to get people to sign up for an expensive course, Lala says: “As we approach election season, it’s important to note that this attention could just as easily be directed toward misinformation or other damages using similar tactics.” Last year, the MIT Technology Review discovered to what extent Global content farms have become adept at using Meta’s own incentive structures to directly profit from popular content, whether it’s memes about celebrity breakups or misinformation about a divisive issue.
Meta also provides data on the most viewed external links and domains. In this report, five of the top 20 links were removed for inauthentic behavior (the top link, of course, was on TikTok). And a list of the most viewed domains — perhaps the part of this report designed to most directly counter CrowdTangle’s data — showed a mix of competitors like YouTube and TikTok, mainstream news sites and GoFundMe.