In 2014, Facebook changed its motto for developers from “Move Fast and Break Things” to “Move Fast With Stable Infra.” They feared that may have been moving too fast to see where they were going clearly. With good reason.
As George Gilder points out in Life after Google, big social media are free because the user is the product, sold to advertisers. And Facebook is now accused of misrepresenting its product. We don’t watch as much video as they claimed:
With traditional digital advertising revenue flatlining, Facebook managed to convince online publishers that video would be the next media goldmine. The company jumped headfirst into the medium–changing its algorithm to favor moving images, while convincing both advertisers and publishers alike that a long-term, video-first strategy would be the answer to their revenue woes.
Online publishers dove in headfirst, fired writers and editors, and hired video producers instead. Then,
All this, it turns out, was allegedly predicated on a miscalculation–inflated metrics that Facebook knew about long before the problem got fixed. The company, according to the lawsuit, adopted a “‘no PR’ strategy” to avoid admitting to this screw-up… CALE GUTHRIE WEISSMAN, “Why media people are furious over Facebook’s bad video metrics” at Fast Company
A class action suit is mooted to be underway:
Nieman Lab got its hands on the court filings, which allege that engineers knew for more than a year that Facebook metrics were “overstating the average time its users spent watching paid video advertisements” and that “multiple advertisers had reported aberrant results caused by the miscalculation (such as 100pc watch times for their video ads)”. The suit also suggested that there was a notable lag between the discovery and correction of the faulty metrics.
The complaint said: “If Facebook had immediately corrected its miscalculation in a straightforward manner, advertisers would have seen a sudden and precipitous drop in their viewership metrics.” It added that marketers and advertisers “would be less likely to continue buying video advertising from Facebook”. Ellen Tannam, “Did Facebook mislead advertisers with video metrics?” at Silicon Republic
Some mourn the human damage:
Advertisers are banding together now–trying to get monetary justice for the alleged damage Facebook caused–but what about those on the publishers’ side? Will they get their jobs back? CALE GUTHRIE WEISSMAN, “Why media people are furious over Facebook’s bad video metrics” at Fast Company
One senses that these creative people will find new jobs. People are still buying products; we just aren’t watching as many videos as claimed. But the episode is a sobering reminder of the fragility of systems dominated by one or two giant firms. When a number of companies compete for market share, one firm’s mistake or dishonesty costs only a small proportion of specialty jobs.
This is a different type of scandal from Facebook’s problem with damaging hacks and politically-based snooping. If the current accusations are proven, it is old-fashioned misrepresentation of audience size, either for gain or to avoid embarrassment.
A tech consultant sums up the problem, “Sadly Facebook didn’t realize is that moving fast can break things…” He adds,
But the danger and consequences of the Move Fast motto go well beyond Facebook, it’s ingrained in the greed and irresponsibility of executives in Silicon Valley. We see it in Google trying to get back into China with censored products that will hurt China’s Muslim minority. We see it with Facebook’s use of how Instagram works to manipulate humans with digital dopamine.
Hacking people is what Facebook will be known for. It can make you a lot of money in the short term, but it’s made social media into an ugly circle of dishonesty, vanity, arguments and a stomping ground for fake accounts, scams, fraud and bad actors. Facebook is the ultimate bad actor of technology companies gone wrong. Michael K. Spencer , “Facebook’s Human Cost of Moving Fast and Breaking Things” at Medium
As usual, behind the confusing jargon of tech mag headlines, we see the same old not-very-confusing problems of a vast market with too few competitors.
See also: Hacks damage Facebook, kill Google+
Who built AI? You did, mostly. By helping Facebook, for example.