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Facebook lands in more strife on inflated metrics

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After reviewing 80,000 pages of internal Facebook records, the group of advertisers believes Facebook inflated its video metrics by as much as 900 per cent, and then failed to disclose the error until almost a year later.

The advertiser group filed a suit for fraud over the alleged false metrics in California earlier this month.

This latest episode contributes to the string of reporting and metrical errors to which Facebook has admitted in the past few years, thus raising questions of trustworthiness as an advertising partner by both users and industry competitors.

The new claims against Facebook purport that the platform was aware of the false metrics in January 2015, but failed to disclose the mistake until June 2016 – despite receiving queries from advertisers. Facebook also led advertisers to believe the average time spent watching videos was inflated by only 60 to 80 per cent, the client group says.

However, the true rates of inflation were alleged to be between 150 and 900 per cent. Moreover, Facebook utilised the overstated metrics to secure higher rates from advertisers, according to the group.

Facebook has denied the allegations and has moved to have the fraud claim dismissed. A spokesman for the company told The Wall Street Journal: “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.”

News publishers have regularly criticised Google and Facebook for their lack of transparency.

Steve Allen, managing director of Essence Media, was critical of the way many media players jumped on the social media bandwagon without question. “That’s just not good enough,” he said. “I think clients and their media agencies or their communication agencies have to step up.

“In the last five decades most major media types’ audience currencies have been questioned, scrutinised and interrogated. Yet pretty clearly this is not been the case with Facebook and Google, so you just go ‘where did responsible evaluation go when this new digital age hit us’?”

Chris Walton, managing director of Nuun Media, highlighted the importance of proper measurement of reach and views. “The issues with metrics may cause a slight pause or flatlining of spend on Facebook, but at this point will not cause a mass reversal of investment,” he said. “It does however raise the importance of ensuring wherever possible all media activity is tracked by independent, third party sources.”

Nuun Media’s head of digital, Peter Wilson added: “The key thing for advertisers is to maintain a healthy dose of scepticism when assessing the latest shiny new advertising medium and in turn don’t be so quick to dismiss the tried and tested.

“We are naturally drawn to the new but the more established mediums may still deliver. Keep focused on reaching the right people, at the right time, in the right place.”

The ongoing scandals involving Facebook have affected the level of trust news media consumers have for social and search platforms, as established by NewsMediaWorks’ 2018 ADTrust survey. The research found two out of three Australians mistrusted Facebook following the Cambridge Analytical scandal, in which 300,000 Australians had their data improperly accessed and shared.

The rise in social media distrust prompted NewsMediaWorks to remind advertisers of the importance and value of trusted journalism, through its ‘The Truth Builds Trust’ campaign.

“Journalism is what draws readers to our trusted news brands. Close to 14 million every month. It is this environment of trust in the news content that defines our news brands and, in so doing, produces tremendous opportunities for advertisers,” NewsMediaWorks CEO Peter Miller said.


Related: Millennials trust ads in news media most 

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