But in trying, it’s proven something else: Facebook’s most popular content is often generic recycled memes.
It’s not necessarily surprising that posting already popular memes gets views on Facebook, but “it’s imperative to monitor where the attention garnered by that content is going” in order to catch attempts to channel that attention into messes , extremism and misinformation, says Karan Lala. , a member and editor-in-chief of the Integrity Institute, an organization founded by former employees of Facebook’s integrity team to research and advise the public on the inner workings of social media platforms. Lala recently published research on the economics of spam on Facebook.
The top 20 most viewed posts on Facebook in the most recent report are overwhelming comeback memes that were originally created for other platforms. Many of the pages responsible for them belong to Instagram viral content accounts with names like Ideas365 or Factsdailyy. There are two pro-Johnny Depp meme posts on the list, with almost 100 million views between them. Two of the top 20 most viewed posts are not in the report because Meta removed them for violating its policies on intellectual property or inauthentic behavior.
The main issue here isn’t necessarily one of safety: Facebook’s most popular content feels more like boomer bait than something designed to attract the engagement of 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 some specific site are hard to tell apart on the surface.
Ideas365 and Factsdailyy seem similar at first: they are both Instagram meme accounts that get huge amounts of views on Facebook. They each post about half a dozen short videos a day. Its content is generic. But looking closer, Lala pointed out some key differences: Factsdailyy’s bio contains 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.
Conversely, Ideas365, the page he published family fight video at the top of Facebook’s most viewed list this quarter: Drive traffic to a site that sells courses to make money selling stuff on Amazon. While the account credits the origin of some memes, it is using the attention these memes garner to advertise questionable services. Their featured stories advertise a “tutoring” 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 pages on Instagram and earns ‘hundreds of thousands a month’ from his phone. This is also complemented by flashy videos of the many luxury cars in the user,” Lala added.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with being a spammy meme page, of course. 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 be just as easily directed toward disinformation or other harm through similar tactics.” Last year, MIT Technology Review revealed how adept global content farms have become at using Meta’s incentive structures to profit directly from popular content, whether it’s memes about a celebrity breakup or misinformation about a divisive issue.
Meta also provides data on the most viewed domains and external links. In this report, five of the top 20 links were removed for inauthentic behavior (the top link was, of course, on TikTok). And the list of most viewed domains, perhaps the part of this report that’s designed to directly counter CrowdTangle’s data, showed a mix of competitors like YouTube and TikTok, mainstream news sites and GoFundMe.