Facebook and why the census is no way of counting people

Written by on September 8, 2017 in Opinion with 0 Comments

By OleksSH / Shutterstock.com

You may have noticed that we are being quite nice and quite quiet about our friend Facebook, the anti-social network. In the past we have wondered how investors continued to pile in to a business based on a one-sided business model – advertising.

We marvelled at the metrics not only Facebook, but other platforms, used to measure a ‘view’. Facebook believes that ‘watching’ a video for 3 seconds, even if it is not completely visible means the video has been watched. For a photo the measurement is half the advert being visible for one second.

We felt this whole scenario to be a house of cards.

When investors kept investing and Armageddon kept refusing to turn up and do the decent thing, we decided to shut up.

But when Facebook watchers tell us that their advertising is available to more people than actually exist, we can be quiet no longer. According to analyst Pivotal Research, via Reuters,

Facebook claims a potential reach of 41 million 18 – to 24-year olds and 60 million 25- to 34-year olds in the United States, whereas U.S. census data shows that last year there were a total of 31 million people between the ages of 18 and 24, and 45 million in the 25-34 age group.

Facebook responded by saying that their figures are not based on census data. They are, apparently, based on an estimate of how many people might be able to see an advert that a business might run.

Or in other words, their data is based on fantasy, guesswork and overinflated ego.

Surely, at this point, investors will pause for a moment and wonder into which fantasy epic they have been throwing billions of dollars.

And even if, as some say, these overinflated figures will not deter advertisers too much, there is worse to come.

As recently as June the company said it had not found ‘any evidence of Russian operatives buying election-related ads on its platform’. Yet yesterday the company admitted that $100,000 dollars were spent on advertising by an allegedly Russian group to promote divisive issues during the election period and beyond. Another $50,000 was spent on ‘potentially’ politically motivated issues.

There are, of course, strict rules on advertising during elections. People in charge get really cross if you post an advert trashing your opponent’s private life and wishing him a crushing defeat. Yet, there are, of course, swamp upon swamp of legal grey areas, in which politicians love to splash about.

There is also common sense. Why spend $1 billion promoting one candidate over another when you can spend $100,000 making undecided people believe that to be a patriot you should expel refugees and buy a machine gun because you are at immediate risk of assault. And once those seeds are sown, along comes the politician who believes the same things – apparently – so you vote for him.

It would be wrong, of course, to even dare suggest that while Facebook is happy to inflate the number of people looking at adverts, they might be capable of deflating the number of Russian (Russian linked, Chinese, or Who Knows Where) groups that bought advertising to influence people politically. Particularly not as their business depends almost entirely on – oh yes, advertising.

Let us hope that the stories that Mark Zuckerberg is thinking of running for President are fake news.

The trouble is – how would we know?

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About the Author

About the Author: Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet. He is publisher of DisruptiveViews and previously BillingViews. .


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