Facebook has a lot to answer for (again)
From its origins as a social media network, Facebook has turned itself into one of the most powerful and richest media companies in the world. It wields an incredible amount of power and its mistakes have outsized negative implications for the world.
Consider the recent ongoing mess regarding fake news and accounts, which is known to have played a part in the US presidential election, is suspected to have influenced many other elections across Europe, and even helped to incite a genocide in Myanmar; whilst no-one at Facebook was personally responsible for any of these events, the distinct lack of action gives the impression that the issues with the platform aren’t being taken seriously even when the fallout is so impactful and severe.
This impression of carelessness has not been aided by the most recent accusations that Facebook has been misleading brands over how much time people spend watching videos on the platform. By inflating its figures Facebook is alleged to have purposefully given the impression that it was a much more impressive video platform than it actually was, thereby implying to advertisers that the product was more valuable and earning Facebook more money at the expense of their customers.
Facebook admitted in September 2016 that it falsely increased reported viewing times by 60-80%, inspiring fraud lawsuits from advertisers, but the latest complaints are of a different order of magnitude. Following review of 80,000 internal Facebook documents it appears that the initial complaint may have drastically underestimated the issue, with the video viewing figures actually being inflated by anywhere up to 900%. In addition, the documents reveal that Facebook was aware of this as early as 2015 despite earlier denials that it tried to hide pertinent information from its customers.
As mentioned previously, this is bad news for advertisers if true. Companies will have been pouring their money into video advertising on Facebook for many years based on mistaken reporting from the company.
The second group to lose out are the thousands of writers who lost their jobs partially as a consequence of how much Facebook overstated the value of video. Major media outlets around the world decided to ‘pivot to video’ and drastically reduce the amount of written content produced in the belief that this is what people wanted. However it turns out that they did not want this, with Digiday reporting that publishers which pivoted to video saw a 60% drop in traffic over a year.
Unsurprisingly, a strategy which focussed on producing expensive, time consuming video content for uploading to other platforms such as Facebook did not magically increase profits. Most people do not want to get all their information from videos, but the numbers coming out of Facebook – numbers which look like they might be seriously wrong – ended up with lots of careers being ruined for no reason.
All in all this is another blow to the credibility of a company which is simultaneously dealing with fake news, privacy and other issues. As yet another ‘mistake’ seems to have worked in favour of Facebook and against the interests of everyone else, trust is hard to come by. We don’t know how this latest episode will end but it is becoming increasingly hard to recommend Facebook to investors as faith in the firm continues to dissipate.