Quantifying the reach of video has incited a war of words—including a lawsuit that’s putting another ding in Facebook’s reputation.
Executives at the social media behemoth vehemently deny allegations that it misled users and knowingly hid data about the efficacy of video ads on the platform.
The case also raises questions for social media marketers.
Facebook gives brands data about how well their unpaid posts perform, and for two years its math was off for how it calculated the average amount of time viewers spent watching videos. In 2016, addressing the problem with marketers, Facebook said that the average time was inflated by 60 percent to 80 percent, and it only impacted unpaid posts.
A group of small advertisers is suing Facebook alleging unfair business practices and fraud. In new court filings the advertisers claim Facebook knew about the metrics mix-up in January 2015, well before disclosing it fully. In September 2016, the issue became public after a memo from Facebook to marketers leaked describing the metrics mishap. Facebook went on to apologize and change how the platform provides measurement tools for advertisers.
The lawsuit also claims Facebook understated the metrics inaccuracy, and that average view times were inflated up to 900 percent.
Facebook has fired back. AdAge reported:
Facebook disputes the allegations, saying the lawsuit is “without merit.” “We’ve filed a motion to dismiss these claims of fraud,” a Facebook spokeswoman said in an email statement on Tuesday. “Suggestions that we in any way tried to hide this issue from our partners are false. We told our customers about the error when we discovered it–and updated our help center to explain the issue.”
Some are remarking that Facebook’s inflated video numbers might have affected more than just advertisers.
Some observers suggested that Facebook’s inflation of video viewing figures affected not only advertisers but also media outlets, many of which made a misguided decision to “pivot” to video, in the expectation that this was how to get people’s attention.
As marketers wonder whether they can trust Facebook metrics, the platform has turned to a third party to verify its findings.
Early last year, Facebook agreed to have the Media Rating Council audit its ad metrics, and it now also shows advertisers independent analysis from third-party measurement firms.
However, the September 2016 admission was far from the last time Facebook had to apologize for providing incorrect metrics. For example, in May 2017 it issued refunds to some advertisers after admitting that it told them people had clicked on their video ads even if those users were just trying to resize the video carousel. And the following September analysts accused Facebook of wildly overstating the potential reach of ads.
Facebook already faces a loss of consumer trust and a damaged reputation resulting from the Cambridge Analytica crisis that emerged early this year (as well as a data breach just a few weeks ago).
Does the company have enough cachet left to swat away new allegations?
On Twitter, people voiced skepticism about Facebook’s video offerings:
LOL so the entire “pivot to video” play was a giant Facebook-driven scam that hollowed out countless media companies for absolutely no good reason. And the irony is: I could have told you this at the time. Nobody wants to watch a frickin’ video anywhere except YouTube. https://t.co/yFP9Pmg8xA
— Jeff B. (@EsotericCD) October 17, 2018
Others are blaming Facebook for the loss of journalism jobs:
I really don’t mind saying a million times that Facebook’s corrupt ad practices pushed journalism organizations in a “pivot to video” that result in hundreds, if not thousands, of layoffs and wasted resources chasing 3-second video views. https://t.co/FqMeMgINmB
— Heidi N Moore (@moorehn) October 16, 2018
Turns out people *don’t* prefer to watch a 7 minute video of a guy reading a 30-second news story.
Good one, Facebook! Thanks for [checks notes] irreversibly destroying the media landscape and [checks notes] fracturing democracy the world over. https://t.co/9sgaMAsCC1
— David Milner (@DaveMilbo) October 17, 2018
Some others are questioning the entire internet’s “pivot to video”:
In addition to Facebooks pervasive fraud, this trick had massive effects across the entire ad and pub industry, spurring a huge amount of the pivot to video derpfest, and not just for stuff on Facebook but across the web. https://t.co/CS150zct4f
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) October 17, 2018
Others gave specifics on how media companies mismanaged their assets based on Facebook’s numbers:
Fox Sports — Major League Baseball’s most important rights partner — completely abandoned all baseball content except for video and got rid of all of its writing staff because of the infamous pivot to video strategy.
— Craig Calcaterra (@craigcalcaterra) October 17, 2018
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