Challenges of capturing engagement on Facebook for Altmetrics
Previous research shows that, despite its popularity, Facebook is less frequently used to share academic content. In order to investigate this discrepancy we set out to explore engagement numbers through their Graph API by querying the Facebook API with multiple URLs for a random set of 103,539 articles from the Web of Science. We identified two major challenge areas: mapping articles to URLs and the mapping URLs to objects inside Facebook. We then explored three problem cases within our dataset: (1) identifying a landing page for any given URL, (2) instances where equivalent URLs are mapped to different Facebook objects, and (3) instances of different articles being mapped onto the same Facebook object. We found that the engagement numbers for 11.8% of all articles that have been shared on Facebook at least once are not reliable because of these problems. Moreover, we were unable to identify the URL for 11.6% of the articles in our data. Taken together, the three problem cases constitute 12.3% of the 103,539 tested articles for which engagement numbers cannot be relied upon. Given that we only tested a small number of problem cases and URL variants, our results point to large challenges facing those wishing to collect Facebook metrics programatically through the available API.