One thing researchers have used to track the spread of viral stories on Facebook — including stories that spread misinformation — is a tool Meta owns called CrowdTangle. Based on anonymous sources, Bloomberg reports what many suspected – that Facebook has largely removed CrowdTangle’s development support and is planning to shut down the tool.
Removing CrowdTangle would strip the access that people like Kevin Roose have used to expose data showing high engagement with right-wing news sources on Facebook, showing results that sometimes seem to contradict Facebook’s compiled official reports. In an article last July for The New York TimesRoose described internal “data wars” over how much information the company should release, with CrowdTangle founder and CEO Brandon Silverman claiming it should share more data. Silverman left the company in October 2021.
“What data is CrowdTangle tracking?”
CrowdTangle is a public insights tool from Facebook that allows publishers, journalists, researchers, fact-checkers, and more to track, analyze, and report on what’s happening on social media. We do that by making public content from Pages, groups, Instagram accounts, and popular subreddits more discoverable, and by easily scaling engagement data about that content (i.e. shares, views, comments, and reactions). CrowdTangle does not track content from regular Facebook profiles.
The top-performing link posts from US Facebook Pages in the last 24 hours come from:
1. NBC News
4. People Royals
5. Fox News
8. KOLO 8 News now
9. Quiet moments
— Facebook’s Top 10 (@FacebooksTop10) June 23, 2022
In a Twitter threadJohn Hegeman, head of Facebook’s news feed, claimed that Roose’s daily Top 10 lists (compiled from CrowdTangle data) display accurate engagement data, but “doesn’t represent what most people see on FB.” He claims a better way to prove that would be through data showing which posts have the most reach, but the company usually doesn’t share that data directly.
When Facebook bought CrowdTangle in 2016, it said the tool could help publishers “surface stories that matter, measure their social performance and identify influencers.” It tracks the performance of stories on other networks, including Instagram and Twitter. The Bloomberg report cites how voter advocacy group Common Cause used it to find misinformation in real time that it flagged for removal on Twitter and Facebook.
Today’s report states that Meta started an official process to shut down the tool in February, but it has paused due to the push of the EU Digital Services Act. Now it is said to be on track for a shutdown “eventually”, with Facebook engineers already assigned to the task. A company spokesperson told Bloomberg that CrowdTangle would remain active at least until this year’s midterm elections, claiming that Meta has plans to provide “even more valuable” tools for researchers.