Facebook has been going full tilt since March to convince advertisers and consumers alike that it’s a safe platform on which to spend money and time.
On Wednesday, for example, Facebook said it’s further reducing the distribution of low-quality, spammy ads within its auction. Advertisers with multiple low-quality ads – those that contain sensational language, for example, or purposely withhold information in an effort to mislead – could see their performance plummet.
But speaking of (allegedly) withholding information in an effort to mislead, a small group of advertisers hit Facebook with a lawsuit Tuesday accusing the company of a cover-up related to its 2016 miscalculated video metrics scandal.
Remember that? At the time, Facebook admitted that it had mistakenly exaggerated reported average view times for videos for roughly two years.
The lawsuit claims that Facebook knew about the issue for at least a year before telling its advertising clients, and the overestimates were worse than Facebook admitted. Facebook had said its ad views were inflated by 60-80%, but the lawsuit asserts a range of 150-900%.
Tuesday’s complaint quotes internal Facebook documents in which Facebook supposedly resolved to “obfuscate the fact that we screwed up the math,” The Wall Street Journal reported.
The plaintiffs contend that the inflated numbers, although not a billable metric, likely persuaded advertisers to spend more on Facebook video ads because they thought the performance was better than it was.
Facebook has filed a motion to dismiss the fraud claims. A spokesperson called the lawsuit “without merit,” asserting that Facebook proactively told its customers about the error when it was discovered and didn’t try to hide the issue from partners.
But it nearly doesn’t matter whether the lawsuit has legs. It also doesn’t matter that the inflated metrics had no direct financial effect on clients.
Once trust starts to erode, the slope only gets slipperier. Advertisers must trust Facebook’s internal measures to spend with confidence.
Since the video metrics brouhaha first broke, Facebook has made changes to its measurement tools and streamlined its metrics and is undergoing a Media Rating Council audit. Facebook also formed a Measurement Council in 2016 as a forum for advertisers to communicate more closely with Facebook during the product development process.
Is it enough for advertisers to keep funneling their cash into Facebook?
Now, as was true after the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke in March, the answer is probably yes – as long as the performance is still there.