Advertisers Accuse Facebook of Knowingly Overestimating Video Viewing

Facebook Artificially Inflated their Video Numbers Leading News Organizations to Fire Journalists in a Pivot to Video

"We told our customers about the error when we discovered it - and updated our help center to explain the issue", a company spokeswoman told the Journal.

Facebook's growth is dependent on convincing advertisers that people are watching more video on its site, Bloomberg notes, and the company is battling to win back trust after finding evidence that Russians used the social network to meddle in the 2016 United States presidential election and revealing that hackers stole personal info on 29 million users. "They also would have seen that they had spent considerable money on past advertising campaigns that were not enjoying anywhere near the average viewership that Facebook had represented".

A legal-filing brought against the social network by a group of small advertisers contends that Facebook knowingly falsified its average viewership statistics for over a year as a means of duping advertisers into signing up for video ads in the false belief that more members were viewing them than was actually the case. Facebook is defending the misrepresentation charges saying the lawsuit is "without merit".

"In addition to Facebook knowing about the problem far longer than previously acknowledged, Facebook's records also show that the impact of its miscalculation was much more severe than reported", the filing says.

If advertisers were more widely aware of this fact, and in particular, if they knew that their advertisements were among those that were not drawing viewers' attention, they would be less likely to continue buying video advertising from Facebook.

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Citing 80,000 pages of internal Facebook documents obtained during court proceedings, the plaintiffs claim the company had already received several inquiries about suspect video metrics by July 2015 and soon determined the cause, but did not follow up on those inquiries for a full year. Videos viewed for less than three seconds, or not viewed at all, were not included in the metrics.

The case stems from September 2016, when a report from The Wall Street Journal found that Facebook had miscalculated the time spent watching videos by 60% to 80%. In the latest version of the complaint filed Tuesday, those claims were unredacted.

The plaintiffs also said the inflation of the metrics ran to 150-900%, not 60-80%.

Last month, Kansas City psychotherapist Danielle Singer filed a class action lawsuit against Facebook, alleging the company had falsely inflated the potential reach of its advertisements.

"Facebook either knew that the average viewership metrics it was reporting. was false or reported those metrics recklessly and without regard for their truth", the complaint alleges.

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