Facebook’s Bug Problem: ‘Fake News’ Or Broadcast Media Booster?


The Wall Street Journal‘s daily amalgamation of news of use to Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs), brand managers, and the media industry’s C-Suite has, of late, taken on somewhat of a biased tone in its coverage of digital media and its advertising crises.

Call it “fake news.” Slide it under the rubric of “slanted stories,” as the WSJ has, to some, become a bit of a megaphone for its owner, Rupert Murdoch.

Whatever you wish to call it, the latest slam on Facebook gives broadcast radio and television’s C-Suite more ammunition in its quest to develop the right “repellent” for advertisers tired of dealing with bugs.

The question is: Are broadcast media’s executives and ad leaders reacting to these reports, or ignoring them?

In a report published late Tuesday (5/16) by the Journal, reporter Lara O’Reilly informs us that Facebook is doling out refunds to “some” advertisers after it determined that it had a bug in its system.

This bug led Facebook to overstate clicks on a client’s website when a Facebookero accessed it from a mobile browser.

According to Facebook, the problem is isolated to Facebook users who choose to access the platform via a smartphone or tablet web browser, and not the Facebook app. Desktops were also not impacted by this little bug.

So, what’s the problem and how did it happen?

In explaining that the discrepancy was “minor,” Facebook said that when a user clicked on its “video carousel” ad format and expanded them in size, those clicks were inaccurately registered as a link click, which are clicks to an advertiser’s selected destination.

What’s a carousel? It permits advertisers to place multiple images, videos and text within a single ad unit, which a user can swipe across to view.

Is this bug another big pest for Facebook, and for marketers? Or, is the Wall Street Journal building a case against the rising tide of dollars flowing to digital and away from News Corp. and 21st Century Fox?

Facebook revealed that it needs a digital exterminator on Tuesday; the WSJ reacted on the same business day, leading one to question if editors were salivating over yet another opportunity to bash the digital ad Goliath.

In a three-paragraph message posted to Facebook’s online newsroom, the company noted, “During our regular reviews to ensure the accuracy of our systems, we recently found and fixed a bug that misattributed some clicks on video carousel ads as link clicks.”

Thus, instead of being billed only for link clicks, these advertisers were incorrectly billed when people clicked on the videos in the carousel to enlarge and watch them.

“Advertisers will receive a full credit for the charges they incurred for these misattributed clicks,” Facebook said.

Most consumers use Facebook through the app on their phones.

However, the app eats up precious megabytes, and on older iPhones some users may opt to use the mobile web browser.

Such is the case with RBR+TVBR’s Editor-In-Chief, who still has an iPhone 6 and hasn’t yet opted for an upgrade.

Millennials poke fun at the phone; the size is right and it does its job.

And, it seems, I’m one of the fraction of a fraction of Facebook users that this bug is possibly tied to.

As Facebook says, “Mobile web browser ad impressions make up a small percentage of the overall ads impressions people see on Facebook. Given that this bug related to mobile web for smartphones only, and specifically for video carousel ads that bid on link clicks, the impact from a billing perspective was 0.04% of ad impressions.”

Um … can you please repeat that number?

The impact from a billing perspective was 0.04% of ad impressions.

Of course, regardless of how many impressions were affected, Facebook says it takes all bugs seriously and apologizes “for any inconvenience this has caused.”

Still, one must question the motives of the Journal—especially given the appearance of this report one day after FOX’s 2017-2018 Upfront presentation at the Beacon Theater in New York.

The Journal dutifully points out that “Facebook has now acknowledged on five separate occasions since September that it has either overstated or understated the metrics advertisers and publishers use to get a sense of the effectiveness of their posts and ads on the platform.”

And, “until now, none of these publicly confirmed metrics errors had affected billing.”

Forget the “0.04%” fact for a minute, and the reality that you have a greater chance of falling into Niagara Falls than getting a refund from Facebook because this bug resulted in faulty metrics for an online advertising effort.

The question we now pose is whether Erica Farber or Perry Sook and their respective teams at the Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB) and Television Advertising Bureau (TVB) will craft a nice little ad that states exactly what the Journal writes: There were five instances of faulty metrics involving Facebook, and now it’s confirmed that it affected billing.

Who cares if it’s a minor bug bite, and one where the itching will stop within minutes. The point here is that the Journal has become an advocate for traditional media’s advertiser value, which has not waned. The ROI is there; the guarantees are there, with respect to metrics.

Creative could play up the trust key advertisers can have with their continued use of broadcast media. And, for the Madison Avenue Metrocard-carrying Uber user, it can note that broadcast media is wrapped around digital, with audio and video streaming bringing a solid-state information and entertainment delivery platform to NewFront attendees in more dynamic ways Alphabet’s YouTube or Zuckerberg’s Toy can.

All it takes a little moxie, and getting aggressive. The Wall Street Journal sure has.

Perhaps it’s the perfect venue for an ad touting why radio and TV are better places for the bulk of ad dollars than those digital denizens that could really use a flyswatter.