Facebook Admitted That It Was Inflating Video Metrics. Now a Lawsuit Says the Problem Started Much Earlier—and Was Way Worse

October 17, 2018, 8:51 AM UTC

Facebook has been accused of misleading brands by not telling them for more than a year that it was overestimating the amount of time people spent watching videos on the platform.

In September 2016, Facebook admitted inflating its average video viewing figures by only counting views that lasted longer than three seconds. This calculation tactic inflated the average viewing times by 60-80%, the social network told an ad-buying agency at the time.

The skewed metrics did not relate to paid advertisements, but they could have misled brands into thinking that Facebook (FB) was a livelier video platform than it actually was, and some small advertisers sued the platform following its admission.

Now, those claimants have filed an amended complaint. The earlier court proceedings allowed them to review around 80,000 pages of internal Facebook records, and the plaintiffs said Tuesday that they had uncovered evidence showing Facebook knew about the miscalculated metrics all the way back in January 2015.

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

“Facebook’s internal efforts behind the scenes reflect a company mentality of reckless indifference toward the accuracy of its metrics,” the new filing read.

Meanwhile, Facebook told the Wall Street Journal that it was “false” to suggest that the social network tried to hide the issue from advertisers. “We told our customers about the error when we discovered it—and updated our help center to explain the issue,” a spokeswoman said.

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.

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.

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