The most popular posts on Facebook are stolen.

The traditional rationale surrounding Facebook’s “Widely Viewed Content Report” released last week is that it blurred more than the disclosure. The company’s attempt to show that most users do not regularly view distributed news in their feeds has been widely criticized for presenting only a high-level view of potential statistics. The most shared domain on Facebook is thanks so much.

But lately, I’ve spent a lot of time looking at Facebook data. What Share. And while it’s true that it tells us very little about hot-button issues, such as the spread of misinformation about COVID-19 or the increase in vaccine reluctance, the report reportedly reveals something similar to what happened on Facebook. The most viewed posts were effectively stolen from other places last quarter. And some of the same audience-building tactics that allowed Russian intervention on the platform to flourish in 2016.

Today, I want to look at two aspects of data. First, we’ll look at the most viewed posts on Facebook over the last quarter to see where they actually came from. Second, we will look at one of the most popular links on the platform, which is a ploy by US military veterans.

It’s hard to come up with a good idea for a viral social media post. Maybe that’s why most of the popular Facebook pages spent the last quarter stealing their ideas from other places.

The Facebook report details the 20 most-viewed posts on the network over the past three months. A post was deleted before Facebook was published. Of the remaining 19, however, only four originals appear. The other 15 were first published in at least one other location, and then re-uploaded to Facebook, sometimes with minor changes.

Take the post of No. 1 in the report, a meme of motivational speaker and author Gore Gopal Das. It’s a mess of letters and words under the message “The first three words you see are your reality.” It was originally published more than a year ago, but ideas continue to grow: 80.6 million people have seen it so far.

But that was not the case for Das. The meme was posted on Twitter. Two weeks ago, Ghanaian rapper M.anifest said.. (This may not have been the case for M.anifest, the image he posted looks quite annoying, as if it had been copied and re-copied several times. Searching for the image, though.)

What about No. 2? In April, musician S. Gutta posted a photo that read, “I’m old but I’m looking for a young challenge. Drop a photo 30 and above with her Instagram link. Over 61 million people viewed it.” , And 5 million responded. But other people were releasing this “challenge” all over Facebook in 2020, according to a search I did – a user post last October. Here’s another one from March. Is.

Next: In May, the Facebook page for Texas’ hottest morning show, Daytime with Kimberly and Esteban.Be bold and ask: “What is something you will never eat, no matter how hungry you are?” 58.6 million people faced this question, and 2.7 million of them answered. Versions of this question are floating around. Twitter And meme pages for years.

No. 5 found “wife, mother, author” Christina Watts started a fight over whether Chinese spaghetti went to 58.6 million souls. Comedian Steve Harvey had it. Tweeted the same question. Less than a week ago

It takes up to the sixth post until we find a vague source – a message from President Biden that received 52.8 million views. It appears to have. Cross-posted message from Twitter., As his predecessor did.

It works more or less the same way over the other 20: lots of viral queries stolen from Reddit, Koora, Twitter or other sites, in exchange for too much engagement on Facebook.

Maybe you’re rolling your eyes at the moment. So some dumb meme pages stole memes from other dumb meme pages – what’s the big deal? And I will allow that the Facebook pages of Texas-based day talk shows generally do not observe the zero tolerance policy on theft that journalists do.

In addition, Facebook has long been home to reusable content, ranging from free booting scandals to video during the 2017 Axis to the recent trend of Instagram reels, full of tick-tack watermark videos.

But this kind of dumb, cheap growth hacking should be familiar to anyone who pays attention to the 2016 election. Russia’s notorious Internet research agency ordered a troll army to follow a large number of Facebook pages using a variety of engagements, then gradually began sharing political memes that further distributed these pages.

This is very difficult to do now, thanks to various steps taken by Facebook to make it more difficult for people to disguise their identities or countries of origin. The company now regularly removes networks of pages where the identity of the creators is suspected. And it is worth noting that in the recent elections, the various types of unauthorized behavior of 2016 did not play a significant role.

Most importantly, Facebook now has a policy against “building unwanted audiences” – changing topics and renaming a page frequently in order to increase following.

But it seems worth noting that for domestic actors, the strategy not only works, but is the most effective way to reach a larger audience five years later. Steal some questions that have gone viral elsewhere, spam them on your page, and submit: You are one of the most viewed links of the entire quarter on the world’s largest social network.

I talked to the company today about all of this, and it said that reposting content from elsewhere does not violate its policies. (Among other things, it will be very difficult for the police.) In order for Facebook to remove such posts, the company said, there must be some fraud about them. Example.

Facebook has come a long way in removing unauthorized people from the platform. But what I consider to be unauthorized content dominates the most viewed posts on the site. In the short term, these posts may be less effective than spreading COVID misinformation and big lies about which we often work.

In the long run, though, they will appear to provide a dynamic opponent with a wide range of attack levels.

There is something else in the statistics that bothers me – something that points to some of the dark forces of the ecosystem. The hijackers who dominate Facebook’s top 20 links are probably doing all this to develop a strong and unpopular audience. But some of the other characters here seem to have more direct financial incentives.

Since the Facebook report came out, commentators have noted the large number of spam networks on the list of most visited links. (This is different from the most viewed list. Letters As mentioned above; The list of links includes aggregate views for a link on Facebook. The previous listing is viewed only for individual posts. Links to low-effort meme posts.

My eyes were drawn to the 15th most visited link, an online store selling Front Vietnam Memorial flags. (“Generally, 24.00.”

The links are promoted through a never-ending series of memes that are marketed to veterans on Facebook pages every few hours. You will find it on the “Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans” page and more logically on the Vietnam Veterans page. Elsewhere, the Desert Storm Veterans page is linked to the same online storefront that sells the Desert Storm Memorial flag.

Together, they have more than 350,000 followers. And their link received 37 million views in three months. Who runs these pages? Are they ex-servicemen? There are no hints in the pages, and the moderators did not respond to my messages today. (One of them saw my message, albeit according to Facebook Messenger.)

But he seems to be familiar with Christopher Goldsmith, who has spent years researching how bad actors would present themselves as members of militant communities to run various gifts and influence operations. In fact, he said, he had previously reported the network to Facebook. Among other things, he said, such networks often steal memes from authoritative military communities, even to Hawk Mall.

“The service is taking advantage of the deaths and suffering of its members,” said Goldsmith, a former Vietnam Veterans of America investigator who now runs an open source intelligence service called Sparrows. (Named after the American Castrel – “the smallest bird of prey in the Western Hemisphere,” Goldsmith told me.)

Goldsmith said Facebook has been slow to intervene in cases where page owners have misrepresented themselves as veterans in order to sell goods to members of military families. “As someone who has been trying to help Facebook understand that it’s been harmful to my community for three years now, four years later, I’m worried that I There is still work to be done. “

Facebook told me it would look at the network. He noted that it is often difficult to know the intent of the page owner from the content posted, and in the absence of evidence of fraudulent content, he may be reluctant to do so. People have different opinions which are considered as “spam”. The dividing line is not always clear.

At the same time, the network of pages here seems to be designed to avoid spam detection. By posting heartbreaking memes targeting service members and their families, they have greatly reduced the likelihood that memes will be reported as spam, even if they are cheap every hour. Post the link to the flag.

In any case, the list of popular Facebook posts and links tells the same story: the way to succeed on the platform is to copy someone else’s idea.

And if you’ve studied the history of Facebook, it probably wouldn’t be so surprising.

This column was published together. Platformmer., Big Tech and Daily Newsletter on Democracy.

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