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Automated Facebook Pages About Cats Are Outperforming Ben Shapiro
New York Times reporter Kevin Roose has a Twitter account called Facebook's Top 10. It uses data from the social metrics tracker CrowdTangle and, every day, it tweets out the top performing posts from the platform based on total interactions. It’s a fascinating — and wildly depressing — look at what Facebook users are reading and sharing every day.
This week on my podcast The Content Mines, my co-host Luke collected the last few weeks of top performers from the account through them into this poorly-formatted spreadsheet:
Obviously, there are a lot of right-wing pages up there — Ben Shaprio, Dan Bongino, Donald Trump For President, Fox News, etc. — but if you look closer, you may notice what Luke has been noticing. There are a lot of weird animals pages in there all of a sudden (also, an incredible amount of K-Pop content). And what’s even more interesting is that these pages only started cracking Facebook’s top 10 over the summer.
According to Roose’s Twitter account, animal pages really didn’t start showing up until May. Then, around June, they became an almost daily fixture of Facebook’s top performing public pages. By the end of July, animal pages were regularly outperforming right-wing Facebook juggernauts like Ben Shapiro. But it gets stranger.
There are several animal content publishers that continue to show up in Roose’s data, the biggest of which is a page called Love Meow. The first time they broke through the top 10 was on July 9th this year. Love Meow has over 4 million followers and appears to be a real website that is regularly publishing new content. According to the site’s about page, it seems to be run by a woman named Amy. OK, all good there. The other animal pages breaking through, however, are a totally different story.
A page called Top13 published the top performing post across all U.S. Facebook pages on October 8th. From what Luke and I could tell, that post was this link to a story on Top13’s site titled, “Shelter Pit Bull Made His Bed Every Day Until A Family Adopted Him”.
A couple things about this. First, the idea that in 2021, the top performing link post on Facebook only has 9,000 shares is, honestly, horrifying. If you are a publisher using Facebook, for the love of god, please stop. But, here’s the real kick in the pants. This post about a shelter dog was published in 2015!
Top13, a website with the tagline “Pawsome Animal Stories,” hasn’t posted any new content since 2020. And even in 2020, it was only publishing new content once a month, if that, according to its RSS feed. Its Facebook page, which only has 300,000 followers, posts three times a day, at 1PM, 3PM, and 5PM, none of it new content. The fact these posts are coming at the exact same time every day makes it highly likely that this account is entirely automated. In fact, none of these posts even have share text. But Top13 isn’t the only zombie animal page making its way into the top 10 rankings.
There are two Facebook pages have shown up in the top-performing rankings several times over the last six months. They’re called “Daily Paws” and “I Love Paws” and from what we can tell they aren’t affiliated with each other. Daily Paws has about 50,000 followers and is a real website. It’s owned by the Meredith Corporation, which owns publications like Entertainment Weekly, Better Homes and Gardens, and Food & Wine. And Daily Paws is basically a lifestyle publication for pet owners. But I Love Paws is a totally different story. It has 480,000 followers and is currently sharing links to a website called dogdispatch.com, which looks like this:
Dog Dispatch publishes about once a week. When I Love Paws broke into the top 10 list this month, it was likely due to this post about homeless dogs which had about 7,000 shares. The post is from 2019.
If you go over to Ben Shapiro’s page, his posts seem to alternate between 10 shares and 200 shares, occasionally spiking up to 1,000. It’s a shocking decline from where Facebook engagement was even two or three years ago. Dan Bongino’s page seems to be doing a bit healthier, with posts getting around 500 shares, with spikes as high as 5,000. But, once again, this is nothing like it was.
To put this all together to really illustrate how grim and weird this all is, earlier this month, the highest-performing link on U.S. Facebook was a five-year-old story about a shelter dog likely posted to the platform by a bot. That is shocking enough on its own. That is 2010-Myspace levels of grim. Even the top posts on Tumblr right now are from this year, being published by very unwell, but real human beings. There is no version of a healthy social platform where this should be happening.
Also, I think all of this is important to keep in your head as you read leaks from the company and watch congressional testimony. I’m not going to go full tin foil hat and say that, in response to accusations that the website has politically radicalized the country, the company’s algorithm guy flipped a switch and suddenly a bunch of viral animal posts started doing well. I don’t think Facebook’s recommendations are that simple. But I do think it’s worth remembering that, over the last six months, there were basically four kinds of content doing well on the platform: Right-wing pundits, K-Pop blogs, the occasional NPR story, and years-old posts about animals from weird content farms. And none of these are actually getting a lot of interactions. And then you need to ask yourself, what if all mainstream internet content wasn’t controlled by one monopoly? Are really getting the most out of our internet experience when this is what we’re being given to look at?
If you want to listen to a podcast version of this investigation, you can check that out below!
A Conversation About Neopets
Yesterday, for paying Garbage Day subscribers, I interviewed Polygon’s Nicole Carpenter. She’s a great reporter who has been covering the absolutely bizarre world of Neopets drama for years. I wanted to share something Carpenter said in regards to the way nostalgia and internet drama seem to go hand-in-hand.
“After I got to high school, or graduated high school, I was not no longer interested in Neopets and only came back to Neopets as an adult,” Carpenter told me. “I was seeking that childhood nostalgia.”
She said that a lot of the constant drama in the community seems to stem from this protective feeling the users have about the website, which seems to only get more intense the more broken the website becomes. “It's because it is so intertwined with nostalgia. People have this vision of what Neopets should be. And drama sparks out of that,” she said.
It reminds me of a lot of communities right, full of older millennials who assumed they wouldn’t be logging in anymore, but have found themselves still there decades later. And these sites almost always feel rundown and broken and typically have owners that just simply do not get it. And it makes me wonder what we do with these spaces. Where do we go when the last Neopets shuts down? And what do we lose?
Genshin Impact Players Are Real Mad At Elon Musk
If you aren’t familiar with Genshin Impact, it’s an open world MMORPG owned by Chinese video game studio miHoYo. The game is a bit like an online version of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild, but with micropayments. To get new characters in the game, you have to gamble for them with a mechanic commonly referred to as a gacha game, which comes from the Japanese word “gachapon,” which is the name for those little vending machines with figurines in them.
On Wednesday, the official Twitter account for Genshin Impact tweeted out a contest asking users to follow an account called @paimon2themoon, which has the display name “Ella Musk,” who is an NPC in the game. If the account got three million followers, miHoYo would ask Elon Musk to stream Genshin Impact.
Users quickly started dunking on the Genshin Impact account, which then panicked and deleted all the tweets about the contest. And then Elon Musk responded.
Great job, everyone.
The Top Podcast On Patreon
If you missed this going around Twitter, the current top podcast on Patreon, beating out Chapo Trap House, is a show called True Crime Obsessed, which has over 45,000 patrons and is making at least $225,000 a month. Haha Jesus Christ. Also, the show runs ads, so it’s probably much higher than that.
I tried to listen to episode of this show and it’s honestly one of the more demented things I’ve ever experienced. It’s a “true crime comedy show.” It’s like a TV show from Robocop. Hosts laugh and joke while dissecting true crime stories with episode descriptions such as:
On February 14, 2017, the bodies of 14 year old Abigail Williams and 13 year old Liberty German were found near the Manon High Bridge trail in Delphi, Indiana. The girls had disappeared from the trail the day before. Soon it was revealed that one of the girls, Libby, had captured audio and video of their presumed killer on her smart phone. But even with a mountain of evidence including audio of the killer's voice and a composite sketch, the girls' murder remains at large. Is he hiding in plain sight?
I Am Not A Fan Of The Robin Williams Video!
Oof-ma-goof, I’m beginning to think prolonged periods of time locked in our homes staring at the internet is starting to result in some real weird behavior. This is video, titled, “Test Footage,” has been viewed over four million times. It was shared by TV personality Scott Nevins, who tweeted, “This is incredible!” I do not agree. The video features Jamie Costa, an actor who has gone viral a few times for different impressions, performing a scene as Robin Williams reacting to John Belushi’s death. I don’t like it! Also, Williams’ daughter Zelda had to tweet that people should stop sending it to her, to which Twitter users actually got mad at her about it, enough so that she had to tweet again about it. What is happening here???
Tumblr User Smashy-Headcanons Has A Big Job Ahead Of Them
Tumblr user smashy-headcanons is a blogger who writes fan fiction about the Super Smash Bros video game franchise. People typically ask them questions about different characters and they answer them.
In July, an anonymous user asked smashy-headcanons about the Kingdom Hearts character Sora getting added to Smash — who still wasn’t part of the game, yet. “The reason I’m lucky Sora isn’t in Smash is because I’d have to eventually play his games to figure out the lore myself. All of them,” smashy-headcanons replied. “Because I’ve committed to trying to play each fighter’s games for the sake of understanding their character.”
Then, earlier this month, Sora was announced as the final DLC of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. And smashy-headcanons in a subsequent post signaled to their followers that they plan to follow through on the commitment to playing every game of every character added to Smash. Here’s the issue with that:
Kingdom Hearts isn’t a linear video game franchise. YouTube videos summarizing the whole story leading up to the final installment, Kingdom Hearts 3, clock out at almost an hour long. YouTube videos trying to summarize the franchise’s timeline are even longer. Kingdom Hearts games have also been released on a lot of different systems, including Game Boy Advance, Playstation Portable, and even a NTT docomo cell phone, available, I assume, only in Japan. So, good luck smashy-headcanons!
What’s Going On In Steve Harvey’s Twitter Replies?
Steve Harvey has been sharing out-of-the-day photos on Twitter and users keep photoshopping them into anime characters. Unclear why. I will inevitably run out of space in this email trying include them all, but here are some of my favorites:
A Needlessly Thorough Roast Of Dear Evan Hansen
I have not seen Dear Evan Hansen, the musical or the movie. I was also one of the many people who assumed the story had something to do with coming out? Apparently, it’s closer to the plot of the movie World’s Greatest Dad? Anyways, this video by Jenny Nicholson has been all over my YouTube homepage this week and it is brutal and incredible.
A Good Tweet
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s an extremely powerful video.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***