According to a complaint made by online marketing agency Crowd Siren, Facebook knowingly mislead advertisers about the average amount of time users watched videos and then tried to deflect attention from the issue.
The social media giant admitted that it artificially inflated the metric for a period of close to two years, as videos were counted as viewed only if a user had watched them for over three seconds. If a Facebook user stopped the video before then, the view duration wouldn’t be taken into account, which has the potential to mislead advertisers. The miscalculation is believed to have led to video viewing times being overestimated by as much as 80 percent.
Facebook released a statement saying that the error has been corrected and provided various explanations that seem to downplay the seriousness of the error. The company said that the issue had no impact on billing and all partners have been notified about the situation through their product dashboards.
According to court documents related to Crowd Siren’s lawsuit, the marketing agency is alleging that Facebook was aware of the inflated metrics starting in 2015 and did nothing to fix the problem until recently. The lawsuit also alleges that company documents and email exchanges indicate that Facebook put together a PR campaign to draw attention away from the errors. An amended complaint filed in a California federal court includes claims of fraud and a request for punitive damages.
In an emailed statement made in response to the lawsuit, a Facebook spokesperson claimed that the legal action is “without merit” and denied that the social network tried to hide the issue from advertisers. The spokesperson went on to say that the company has filed a motion to dismiss the pending litigation.
Facebook has been putting a lot of emphasis on video in recent times. Launched over two years ago, the Facebook Live service gives anyone with a mobile phone and Internet connection the ability to broadcast live video to others using the world’s most popular social network. Many industry experts believe that Facebook’s continued growth is closely correlated with its ability to convince advertisers that users are really watching a growing amount of video content. The social media service has recently been involved in efforts to win back public trust after a security breach resulted in personal information belonging to over 29 million users being stolen by hackers.