A couple of years ago I paid waaaay more money than I should have to an “Expert Consultant” who told me over and over again that Video is the way to go. On the plus side, I figured out how to do it on without spending any more money with him, but as I suspected all along, it’s was just Bantha excrement…
Facebook acknowledged in 2016 that it had been overstating to advertisers the average time users spent watching videos on the platform. But when exactly Facebook found out about that error—and how long the company kept it under wraps—is now the subject of a federal district court lawsuit in California. The suit, filed earlier this week, was brought by Facebook advertisers who allege that Facebook knew about the measurement error for more than a year before it was first reported publicly in The Wall Street Journal.
But advertisers aren’t the only ones seething over the prospect of Facebook knowingly inflating its video viewership; members of the press are, too.
According to the complaint, which Facebook has dismissed as being “without merit,” the company may have been alerted to the analytics error as early as 2015 by advertisers who reported seeing an unrealistic 100 percent average viewership rates on some videos. It was also around that time that many newsrooms across the country began laying off reporters, in what has become snarkily known as the “pivot to video.”
If the tech platforms publishers relied on for advertising and distribution were prioritizing video over text, the thinking went, then video would be key to any media company’s survival. That wasn’t just based on a hunch. In 2015, Facebook tweaked its algorithm to surface Live videos, a feature that had just launched, higher up in News Feed. And the following year, during an interview at Mobile World Congress, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that in a few years “the vast majority of the content that people consume online will be video.”
“They were making this move to video the number one priority across the company and were very vocal about that,” says Jason Kint, CEO of the digital publishing trade organization Digital Content Next. (WIRED parent company Condé Nast is a member.) Publishers, who had already weathered the transition from print to digital only to watch their online ad revenue get leeched away by Facebook and Google for a decade, listened. Outlets like Mic, Fox Sports, and MTV News laid off writers to focus on video. Not long after, page views plummeted. Just two years later, in early 2018, Facebook changed the News Feed again, this time giving videos a demotion.
When the Wall Street Journal broke the news about the complaint Tuesday, it was almost instantly met with anger and frustration from members of the media. “This is especially maddening because the ‘pivot to video’ is not, as this proves, necessarily a consumer-led initiative,” tweeted Phillips Picardi, the editor-in-chief of Out and former chief content officer of Teen Vogue (Teen Vogue is also owned by Condé Nast).
“A lot of friends lost their jobs over this bullshit,” tweeted Benjamin Bailey, a writer for Nerdist. “Facebook outright lied and pushed this whole ‘pivot to video’ narrative. It’s all a big house of cards.”