WHAT’S NEW IN THE WORLD OF FACEBOOK
On Sunday October 3rd, 2021, CBS’ 60 Minutes ran a segment featuring Frances Haugen, a former Facebook data scientist and now whistleblower on the company. The segment revealed allegations that Facebook has been suppressing internal research surrounding hate speech, violence and misinformation on its platforms, and as a result is misleading the public on its progress in combating these issues.
Some of the findings most pertinent to advertisers include that Facebook has been misrepresenting its progress in combating hate & violence, that they’ve been over-reporting audience size & reach metrics, that they’re aware it’s 2018 algorithm change disproportionally prioritized divisive content and that Instagram was found to be harmful to teenage girls.
Facebook has since responded to both the whistleblower segment and the Wall Street Journal articles, claiming that they are a mischaracterization of the work they’re doing to combat these issues.
OVER-REPORTING AUDIENCE SIZE & REACH METRICS CLAIM
One of the SEC complaints filed by Haugen claimed that Facebook misled investors and advertisers about reach metrics and user base details in order to secure continued and increased investment. The file claims that Facebook’s active user numbers are overstated as they don’t account for users with multiple accounts. The filing also claims that Facebook failed to disclose internal data that showed a decrease in usage amongst teenagers and young adults.
These claims are obviously concerning, as they directly impact advertisers in their ability to reach their audiences and the decision-making process to invest in Facebook based on its reach potential. Facebook disputes these claims, stating that they are false and that they have been transparent about the volume of duplicate and fake accounts on its platforms, which cumulatively account for 16% of Facebook’s active user base.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR ADVERTISERS
The details surrounding Facebook’s internal research contrasting that of their public communications is undoubtedly concerning, as transparency and accountability are at the heart of what’s needed to achieve trust in digital media. Therefore, IPG Mediabrands introduced the Media Responsibility Index, a system designed to measure social media platforms on 10 core principals surrounding social responsibility. Some of the key principals include no misinformation, no hate speech, children’s wellbeing, transparency and accountability, which are at the heart of the issues recently identified with Facebook. We will continue to hold Facebook accountable against these principals and provide alternative solutions where they lack.
AND WHAT’S THIS I HEAR ABOUT META?
At Facebook’s Connect Conference on October 28th, 2021, Mark Zuckerberg announced that they will be changing their company’s name from Facebook to Meta. This change will bring together the Facebook family of apps and technologies under a new company brand. Meta’s company mission is to connect people in ways never before possible.
In addition to the name change, Zuckerberg also introduced the Metaverse, a set of digital spaces that are interconnected so people can easily move between them. It’s envisioned to be a hybrid of today’s online social experiences and immersive virtual and augmented reality experiences. At the core of the Metaverse’s experiences include elements like virtual places and experiences, avatars, digital products and interoperability across platforms.
Despite Facebook’s eye on the future, there are little immediate changes for advertisers. Facebook’s vision of the Metaverse is still in its early stages, with many of these products and experiences likely to come over the next 5-10 years. There are also no immediate changes to Facebook’s family of apps. The Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp platforms will retain their existing names, and only the holding company will be rebranded to Meta.
While it’s exciting to think about what the future holds in terms of digital innovation and virtual and augmented experiences, our belief is that there is still work to be done in resolving Facebook’s present-day issues. This rebrand comes amid increased scrutiny of Facebook considering the whistleblowers claims, and rather than making course correction its number one priority, Facebook sets its sights on the future.
The reality is that there’s still more work that Facebook needs to do in combatting hate speech, violence and misinformation on its platforms in order to create more positive environments for its users. There’s also more work that Facebook needs to do in restoring trust with advertisers, as the claims bring into question Facebook’s level of transparency with its advertisers over key issues, such as brand safety and misrepresented audience details.
Despite the recent controversy, Facebook saw a 35% year-over-year growth in revenue last quarter. This comes at no surprise, as advertisers have become reliant on Facebook to achieve their business objectives, particularly as we edge our way out of the pandemic. However, dependency on a single platform should be avoided, and advertisers should think about platform diversification and what it means for them; especially in light of Facebook’s issues.
In addition to this, the recent controversy surrounding Facebook sheds light on the increased need for transparency and social responsibility in digital media. Through platform diversification, we’re able improve business outcomes through structured test & learn, reduce dependency on any single platform and hold partners to account on social responsibility.
While there isn’t a one size fits all approach, and we do not recommend pausing Facebook activity entirely, other partners, such as TikTok, Snapchat, LinkedIn and Pinterest can also be part of a successful diversified platform approach. Our team can offer guidance on ideal channel mix, backed by data, performance and media responsibility, in order to achieve greater platform diversification.