Facebook recently risked advertisers’ wrath due to protracted technical issues with its ad platform ahead of Black Friday. It’s the second major controversy the platform has had with advertisers this year — the company previously came under fire for allegedly misleading advertisers by inflating video ad statistics.
In October of 2017, a lawsuit reported on by the Wall Street Journal alleged that Facebook was aware of issues on how the site measured views of video ads for more than a year before it disclosed this issue in 2016. A group of advertisers brought a lawsuit against the social media firm in 2016 for failing to disclose the error earlier, accusing Facebook of engaging in unfair business practices by publishing inaccurate metrics that overestimated how long users spent watching ads and ultimately misled advertisers.
Later, the group of advertisers added a claim of fraud and alleged that Facebook knew of the advertising metric bug as early as January 2015 and determined the scale of the miscalculation within months, but failed to disclose this information to advertisers for over a year.
“Facebook’s internal efforts behind the scenes reflect a company mentality of reckless indifference toward the accuracy of its metrics,” the advertisers said in a court filing. Facebook responded in a statement saying: “Suggestions that we in any way tried to hide this issue from our partners are false. We told our customers about the error when we discovered it — and updated our help center to explain the issue.”
The Wall Street Journal reported:
Facebook told some advertisers that it likely overestimated average time spent watching videos by 60% to 80%. The plaintiffs alleged in Tuesday’s complaint that the error was much larger and that the average viewership metrics had been inflated by some 150% to 900%.
Facebook also said at the time that the error didn’t affect billings. However, in their complaint, the plaintiffs claim Facebook’s misrepresentations “induced” advertisers to purchase video ads and to pay more for Facebook’s video ads because they believed users were watching videos for longer than they actually were on average.
The claims that Facebook failed to act when it discovered the video metric error were in an August filing, but were heavily redacted at the time. In the latest version of the complaint filed Tuesday, those claims were unredacted.
Jason Kint, chief executive of Digital Content Next, a trade organization that represents online publishers, commented on the latest lawsuit brought against Facebook: “Facebook needs to lead with radical marketer and consumer transparency to get past this. We haven’t seen it yet.”
This week, advertisers are panicking over the crashing of Facebook’s advertising tools ahead of Black Friday, one of the biggest shopping days in the United States. CNBC reported that ad buyers were unable to utilize Facebook and Instagram’s advertising analytics platform to view data about how ads were performing, edit current live ad campaigns, or create new ad campaigns.
I've never seen it down for this long. 7 hours now. pic.twitter.com/yCOXpTYDLC
— David Herrmann (@herrmanndigital) November 20, 2018
“We’re aware that some people are currently having trouble accessing Ads Manager,” a Facebook spokesperson told CNBC in a statement. “We’re working to resolve the issue as soon as possible.” The issue reportedly persisted for up to eight hours, into Tuesday afternoon.
Since then, some of Facebook’s advertising tools have come back online, but many features are still unavailable. A warning on the Facebook ad manager page reads:
Access Is Restored but Systems Are Still Recovering
In the past 24 hours, you may have had trouble accessing Ads Manager and other services. Access is now restored, so you can create and publish ads. Ads created but not published during this time were saved and can be reviewed in your drafts. You may experience intermittent issues while our system recovers and reporting may not be current. We will update this message once resolved. Thank you for your patience.
A screenshot of the warning can be seen below:
As advertisers, media buyers and merchants worry ahead of Black Friday, the allegations surrounding Facebook’s inflation of video advertising figures begs the question – do online retailers and advertisers need Facebook as badly as they previously thought?