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Recently unveiled documents suggest Facebook was blowing smoke up everyone's ass when it was bragging about the "pivot to video" back in 2016. A small group of advertisers, who already filed a suit against Facebook for unfair business practices, have added a claim of fraud now that internal documents show how badly Facebook was screwing its customers. They accuse Facebook of a "mentality of reckless indifference" that caused businesses to spend more money based on phony reports, even after Facebook's own engineers knew something was broken. It's too bad Facebook already cashed their checks.


We're going to stay out of the techno and legal weeds and keep this very simple: A math error may have seriously fucked digital media and journalism. According to the complaint, Facebook was "overstating the average time its users spent watching paid video advertisements," and when Facebook discovered the error they spent the next several months dicking around in their hoodies instead of fixing the problem and informing their customers.

Facebook chose to continue disseminating false metrics for several more months while it developed and deployed a 'no PR' strategy designed to 'obfuscate the fact that we screwed up the math.' All the while, Facebook continued to reap the benefits from the inflated numbers.

The complaint says that all this happened back in 2016. At the time, Mark Zuckerberg was running around the world rambling about "golden age of video," and telling every print media outlet that would listen how everyone would be posting videos to Facebook in five years. Headlines said Facebook was going "all-in" on video, and it was its marketing analytics tools that allowed advertisers to not only count total views on videos, but the amount of time people spent watching those videos, whether they turned the sound on, what device was used, and average time people spent watching. Since the media business is all about keeping eyeballs glued to screens, this was a godsend for advertisers and newsrooms who needed to see how well their investment in video was going.

In August, right around the time Donald Trump was grabbing 'em by the pussy and Obama was warning of Russian fuckery, Facebook quietly admitted it wasn't counting three second video views in a now-deleted blog post. Facebook said it fixed the "discrepancy," and wouldn't charge anyone for their own screw up. But in September, the WSJ reported the numbers Facebook was claiming for video view times had been inflated as much as 60-80 percent. Media companies freaked out and wondered if all the data they'd been getting for the last two years -- data that correlated to millions in digital ad buys and newsroom layoffs -- was all based on a fucking math error.

Since this is Facebook, things obviously get worse. According to the suit, "the average viewership metrics were not inflated by only 60-80 percent; they were inflated by some 150-900 percent." They claim Facebook knew nobody was watching any of the ads in their Newsfeed, and they hid this in order to keep milking marketers. WOAH, IF TRUE!

It's impossible to know just how catastrophic this was, or is. Many journalists are bitching that the "pivot to video" was a fad that cost a lot of damn good writers their gigs, and left large voids in the news. Media companies saw these ridiculous numbers coming from Facebook and started dumping resources into new video departments. Newsrooms budgets for writers and shoe leather reporters were slashed, companies began hiring every cheap hipster they could find, and then everything was dumped on Facebook. Corporate twats argue that they were going to gut unprofitable newsrooms anyway, and that Facebook's half-baked Powerpoints only accelerated shifts already underway in the media landscape. Personally, we think Facebook fucked up, the media companies fucked up, and the world would be a better place if more people paid for investigative journalism.

Facebook says they acted "immediately" after the error became known, and is seeking to dismiss the claim. If Facebook is found to have sat on its hands, it could have dramatic consequences for the media industry. Facebook makes money by selling ads and user data to help companies target ads to Facebook's users. If Facebook is found to have been lying about its user engagement, there's no telling what could happen. Facebook has been bleeding users as it suffers an almost daily deluge of scandals ranging from election hacking, privacy violations, genocide, assorted hate crimes, and shitty business practices. It's likely that this suit will be another righteous kick in the dick, but Wall Street is screaming for Zuckerberg's head. He wasn't just screwing with lives, he was screwing with wallets.

[CBS News / WSJ]

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Dominic Gwinn

Dominic is a broke journalist in Chicago. You can find him in a dirty bar talking to weirdos, or in a gutter taking photos.

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