How plagiarism helps explain Facebook's youth problem

The connection between Boomer cringe, stolen posts, and Facebook's lost generation

Programming note: Platformer will be off tomorrow for Veterans Day.

Back in August, on the occasion of Facebook releasing its first “widely viewed content” report, I noted here that all the most popular posts on Facebook are plagiarized. To look through the list of most viewed stories on the site over the previous quarter was to encounter a variety of memes that had been borrowed from Reddit, Twitter, Quora, and other sites where culture is more reliably manufactured. Plagiarism isn’t against the Facebook’s community standards, and it would be nearly impossible to police even if it were.

Still: the most popular TikToks on TikToks were made on TikTok; the most popular tweets were posted on Twitter. It seems weird, and maybe at the margins even a little dangerous, for Facebook to maintain a policy that leaves it so open to this kind of growth hack.

That’s one reason I was eager to read the second installment of the widely viewed content report, which the company delivered on Tuesday as part of its broader community standards enforcement report. And, once again, the top posts are almost all coming from elsewhere.

No. 1 this time around goes to the question “Who can honestly say they never had a DUI 👋 i’ll wait.” Google around and you can find the same question posted in plenty of other places; here it is in August on something called America’s Best Pics and Videos, where it generated hundreds of comments. Here it is on another meme page in 2019, this time with an inexplicable dreidel-patterned background.

It was an even bigger hit this quarter on Facebook, where it was posted by a page called Thinkarete lifestyle. Thinkarete bills itself as “place where I share my my baking adventures and other baking temptations,” but in reality uses pilfered memes to attract a big audience for its actual goal: selling jewelry and other tchotchkes. The scheme seems to be working well enough — the page has more than 2 million followers, including my 1st grade teacher (shout out to Mrs. Maeda) — and its DUI post was viewed 94.3 million times. That was enough to generate 18 million comments, and presumably some nice downstream jewelry sales.

No. 2 on the list this time around is a meme that reads “I'm dying. Spell your name, but for each letter press the first word that comes up in your predictive text...” It was posted by a Memphis radio station hoping to gin up engagement; it worked, garnering 92.4 million views. Anyway, here’s the same question post to Reddit seven months ago. Here it is on Twitter in February. And so on.

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