Facebook Delineated With Another Measurement Error


When it comes to measurement errors, the third time is even less charming than the second and first.
Facebook is the single biggest driver of traffic to news sites, a role that has allowed it to amass tremendous influence over the media and, by extension, the public. A single tweak to the news feed can cause traffic to digital outlets to gyrate unpredictably and lead them to change their publishing strategies. And a single error in how Facebook reports its publishing data can produce discrepancies in readership that send shudders through media organizations and their advertisers.
“It looks like Facebook is going through their code with a fine-tooth comb, but I’m willing to bet it isn’t the last error they find,” said Traction CEO Adam Kleinberg. “If it was intentional, they would have uncovered them (measurement errors) all at once. So it’s not sinister, and, to me, it’s not dishonesty. But it’s incompetence at this point.”
Facebook’s operations are largely viewed by the outside world as a black box, if a particularly tech savvy and algorithmic one. But the recent disclosures around misreported data, and the on-going, heated discussion of fake news, are likely to lead to further—and louder—calls for transparency.
Facebook has defended past measurement errors by emphasizing that they didn’t impact billing. But as Pivotal Research analyst Brian Wieser noted in a recent report, “or many advertisers, the figures influenced plans and choices to allocate budgets to Facebook. … The fact that errors were discovered following Facebook’s recent self-audit will heighten demands from agencies and advertisers to allow third-party audits, given concerns that additional errors will be discovered.”
Kleinberg said that the errors will impact the confidence of their Facebook recommendations to clients, which could impact the aggregate, spend among clients.
“It won’t affect every client, but there will be some who say, ‘Hey, I’m not comfortable with that risk,’” he said.
Kevin Wright, director of social media at Blitz, added, “Although it has not led to the reduction of media budgets for our clients as of yet, this news has put a level of doubt or mistrust in our clients that is a hurdle we have had to overcome.”
“I haven’t spoken to anyone at Facebook about this on a larger scale, but the reps we’ve been working with don’t necessarily seem prepared to answer those questions,” noted Kate Hodes, senior analyst at Huge. “That is why they created the Metrics FYI section of the (Facebook) blog, so they could have a single response to the issues.”
Kleinberg noted that Facebook’s failure to eliminate measurement errors is just one of several problems to recently afflict the company. In just the past month, the company has also been accused of facilitating the spread of fake news and for violating conflicts of interest with investors.
“Like Apple and Google, Facebook is often viewed as one of the world’s most powerful tech companies,” Kleinberg said. “But sometimes it seems like it’s not quite run as professionally as those companies.”

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