Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

More of Facebook’s Metrics Found to Be Exaggerated

I’ve written a fair amount this week about Facebook’s role in disseminating and promoting fake news sites and bullshit stories within their news feed, but it’s worth examining their repugnant behaviour towards real news sites as well.

Back in 2013, Facebook announced that they had become the leading source of traffic to media companies, to the tune of about 40% of their total referrals. That’s a huge number and, right or wrong, publications became somewhat reliant upon the traffic Facebook was sending their way.

Over time, Facebook made adjustments to their news feed to prioritize current events, advertisements, and promoted posts, while also demoting some forms of posts from publishers’ pages. Publishers noticed a decline in referral traffic due to these changes.

One might think that having a revenue stream that’s substantially dependent on a single company might cause publishers to take pause, but that wasn’t what happened. Last year, Facebook announced that they would be radically increasing the amount of video that appeared in their news feed. Media companies rushed to boost their video teams and output, even going so far as to create Facebook-only video-centric initiatives and Facebook Live partnerships. And all seemed to be going pretty well, until earlier this year. Todd Spangler, Variety:

The company says that in the past month it has updated the way it reports average time spent viewing videos on its platform to be more accurate. Previously, Facebook calculated that based on users who watched videos for at least 3 seconds. Now it’s factoring in views of any duration, which means the average time spent viewing will be lower.

And it’s apparently much lower: Facebook’s previous “average duration of video viewed” metric was inflated by upwards of 60% to 80% because of the three-second cutoff, according to a letter ad agency Publicis sent to clients that was obtained by the Wall Street Journal.

One might think that having a revenue stream that’s substantially dependent on a single company which failed to correctly state the performance of these initiatives might cause publishers to take pause. But that is, once again, not what happened. Publications like the Verge instead shifted their focus to improving their reach on Facebook by increasing their commitment to Facebook Live, video, and Instant Articles.

You know what comes next. Mike Shields, Wall Street Journal:

The company publicly disclosed on Wednesday that a comprehensive internal metrics audit found that discrepancies, or “bugs,” led to the undercounting or overcounting of four measurements, including the weekly and monthly reach of marketers’ posts, the number of full video views and time spent with publishers’ Instant Articles.

Every major media company should be seriously reconsidering their commitments to Facebook right now. Between their seemingly uncaring attitude towards bogus news sites, their algorithmic fluctuations for legitimate publications, and their ongoing inflation of their statistics, Facebook shows that they simply don’t care about the state of the media.