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Facebook bug accidentally shows you how popular your posts are

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Oops

Facebook is currently working to squash a bug that let users of its mobile website see view counts for their own and others' posts throughout the social network. Similar to how Facebook now displays the number of views under videos posted on its site, this bug let you see the number of views on any article or video link, including those from news media and other official organization pages. The end result, of course, is the crushing realization that nothing you say or share will ever be as popular among your friend group as a ClickHole article or maybe that BuzzFeed video on how to make ramen fries.

The bug, discovered by some users today, only affects Facebook's mobile site, and not Facebook for desktop or the company's official mobile apps. Facebook confirmed the bug to The Verge and said it is removing the view counts from user posts. The changes should already be taking effect. (Facebook has since reached out to confirm that the issue has been resolved.)

The view counts display only under shared or posted links and sometimes under photos, and it's unclear if the metrics are entirely correct. As you can see here, my commentary related to a Doritos article from the Winston-Salem, North Carolina Fox affiliate was seemingly viewed by nearly 4 million people. Facebook's own page, which has more than 165 million likes, received only around 75,000 views on a post promoting global internet access. (Though of course society's relative interest in those two topics sounds reasonably accurate.) This disparity may make sense if the view count number is the total amount of views that particular link accrues across all of Facebook.

Facebook has no future plans to let individual users see view counts, and for good reason. Part of using the social network is the tacit acceptance that you're feeding content into a black box, controlled by a mysterious series of algorithms you have no control over and will never understand. In fact, a Stanford University study conducted by assistant professor Michael S. Bernstein and Facebook's data science team in 2013 revealed that the average Facebook user only reaches about 35 percent of their friends with a single post. Over the course of a month, an average user will reach barely two out of every three friends.

A Doritos news story will trump promoting global internet access

It's the same problem media organizations and other page owners have had with Facebook for years. Many have invested heavily in growing the number of likes on their page only to have the social network charge them for reaching more than a small fraction of their audience. But only Facebook holds the keys to the enigmatic News Feed. That's how it goes. Until a bug comes along, and we see just how popular — or not — we really are.

Update at 3:50PM, Thursday, October 15: Facebook confirmed that the issue is now resolved and users should no longer see view counts on Facebook's mobile site.


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