Facebook Called Out for Lying; is Not Actually YouTube's Video Equal

04 August 2015

Facebook has made news recently with the claim that it now has roughly the same number of video views as YouTube. That’s a big call, and if true spells trouble for Google’s iconic video platform. Unfortunately for Facebook, the metrics by which it measures user engagement have been questioned. And rightly so.

Numerous big name YouTubers have called Facebook out on its statistics. Hank Green, of Vlogbrothers, Sci Show, Sci Show Space, CrashCourse and numerous other successful online and real-world projects, has gone so far as to accuse Facebook of lying, stealing and cheating. His arguments are compelling, if inflammatory.

The lying claim

You may have already spotted the issue yourself: Facebook Autoplay. If someone uploads a video to Facebook directly, the web browser and various phone apps are by default set to auto-play them. What you may not know is that Facebook waits just three seconds to count an auto-played video as a view.

You never clicked on it, you may never have even given it a glance; you don’t even need to enable the sound. All a video has to do is play for that three seconds and Facebook reports you've viewed it.

YouTube, on the other hand, waits far longer to judge engagement. The bar is moved based on video length, but it’s usually around the thirty second mark; a measure that could be argued has a more accurate grounding in reality.

Green used his own Facebook analytics to support his point:

“90% of people scrolling the page are still ‘watching’ this silent animated GIF. But by 30 seconds, when viewership actually could be claimed, only 20% are watching. 90% of people are being counted, but only 20% of people are actually “viewing” the video.”

– Hank Green

Notable YouTuber Philip DeFranco backed up Hank Green’s claims with his own Facebook analytics data in a recent video.

With regards to measuring a view after three seconds, DeFranco stated:

“That, plainly put, is either a lie or bad thinking that you’re going along with because it makes you look good…

Even Facebook analytics gives me two versions of my views: views in general, and views after 30 seconds.”

– Philip DeFranco

He then went on to use an example of a video post from the previous day that Facebook, using its three-second rule, would advertize as having 97 000 views. After 30 seconds had just 28 000. Another video was counted at 9.3 million views, but after 30 seconds had just 3.9 million; a number DeFranco referred to as the “actual views”.

These figures differ from Hank Green's own rule of a 90% engagement at three seconds falling to just 20% after 30 seconds, but the message is still clear: Facebook's claim of equaling YouTube's viewership is at best a statistical vagary.

Stealing & cheating?

The stealing and cheating claims come from two main complaints:

  1. A video uploaded natively to Facebook will turn up on significantly more news feeds of your followers than a shared YouTube video, or video from another source. By favoring its own content, rather than the competition, Facebook in-organically drives up its own views. This forces content uploaders to use Facebook's own native videos rather than another source if they want maximum engagement.
  2. According to a recent report from Ogilvy, 725 of the most-popular 1000 Facebook videos of Q1 2015 were stolen re-uploads. These were not videos made by their posters; they were taken from other sources and uploaded, often with no accreditation. The uploader gets more popular on Facebook, Facebook gets ad revenue from page impressions, the creator gets nothing.

If you would like to read more, you can check out Hank Green’s piece on Medium.

Or, alternatively, you can watch this video by Destin from Smarter Every Day on Facebook 'freebooting'.



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