Facebook Sued for Claiming People Watch Video Ads

Jilted advertisers say they were overcharged for bogus video views that were jacked up by as much as 900 percent, according to a new lawsuit.

Facebook’s headquarters at 1 Hacker Way in Menlo Park. (Courtesy photo)

You’ve probably noticed a lot more videos popping up in your Facebook feed this past year or so. And you probably scroll right past these videos without even watching them! But a new lawsuit filed in a U.S. District Court in Oakland says that Facebook has been charging advertisers big bucks for bogus viewership numbers that they claim were “inflated by some 150 to 900 percent.”

Fake news? More like “Fake views,” amirite?

Three social media marketing firms — Crowd Siren, Social Media Models, and Quirky — initiated the lawsuit shortly after a Sept. 2016 Wall Street Journal report revealed that Facebook had “overestimated average time spent watching videos by between 60 percent and 80 percent.” But new revelations claim that Facebook has been falsely jacking up their video ad viewership numbers by more than ten times that amount.

“Facebook’s action rises to the level of fraud and may warrant punitive damages,” attorneys for for the marketing firms claim in their lawsuit, whose full text is available online. “In addition to Facebook knowing about the problem far longer than previously acknowledged, Facebook’s records show the impact of its miscalculation is more severe than reported. The average viewership metrics were not inflated by only 60 to 80 percent; they were inflated by some 150 to 900 percent.

“Facebook did not wish to draw scrutiny to its viewership figures because it knows that the majority of video ads on its platform are viewed for very short periods of time — users scroll right past,” the lawsuit adds. “If advertisers were more widely aware of this fact, and in particular, if they knew that their advertisements were among those that were not drawing viewers’ attention, they would be less likely to continue buying video advertising from Facebook.”

For their part, Facebook insists they’ve been up front about the issue all along. “Suggestions that we in any way tried to hide this issue from our partners are false,” a Facebook spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal Tuesday. “We told our customers about the error when we discovered it — and updated our help center to explain the issue.”

This lawsuit was originally filed two years ago, under the previous impression of the 60-to-80 percent discrepancy. These new allegations came to light with Tuesday’s filing. The filing does not specify how much money the plaintiffs are after, but they are asking the judge to grant their lawsuit class action status. That would open the floodgates for thousands of other advertisers to join in on the lawsuit, at great potential cost to Facebook.

The case will continue in December, when both sides appear again in U.S. District Court.

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