Facebook Ad Numbers Inflated, Lawsuit Alleges

Facebook ad numbers are inflated and the platform’s audiences in U.S. cities and states a Kansas-based marketer wanted to target were far smaller than the “potential reach” Facebook said it had, alleges a lawsuit the marketer filed in California. MercuryNews.com reported yesterday that the suit further states “the 18-34 age demographic in all 50 states exceeded the actual population of 18-34 year olds who use Facebook.”

The lawsuit filed on Wednesday in U.S. District Court of Northern California is another issue for Facebook to deal with in addition to data privacy and fake news worries that are reportedly eroding consumer trust. Now, marketers whose last concern with the Facebook ad numbers was mainly about its video view metrics may now be worried about inflated audience numbers. The case claims inflated numbers mislead advertisers into purchasing “more advertisements than they might otherwise have.”

A Facebook spokesperson told MercuryNews.com that “this suit is without merit and we plan to defend ourselves vigorously.”

Plaintiff Danielle Singer is trying to have the case changed to a class action and, MercuryNews.com says:

Singer, who owns Therapy Threads, spent more than $14,000 on Facebook ads across the country, targeting major metropolises, such as San Francisco.

Singer then did her own calculations comparing the Potential Reach figures — which Facebook says is “designed to estimate how many people in a given area could see an ad” and not designed to match population or census estimates — with her actual figures. For example, in Chicago, Singer deduced from U.S. census data that there were about 808,000 residents aged between 18 and 34; Facebook calculated its Potential Reach for Chicagoans in the same age group to be more than 1.9 million.

“Even this calculation understates the level of inflation in Chicago, since not everyone in the demographic has a Facebook account,” reads the lawsuit.

It’s not the first time Facebook’s been accused of inflating its audience numbers. In September, we reported: 

“Facebook advertisers have a new beef with the social media giant — it’s counting 25 million more Americans among its users than actually exist, according to U.S. Census data.

“In an article that ironically trended on Facebook on Wednesday, Business Insider’s Alex Heath writes that a Facebook spokesperson believes many of the extra views in the U.S. could be from tourists.”

The continued controversy around the social media network hasn’t yet seemed to drive advertisers away, though Facebook’s revenue numbers weren’t as high as analysts would’ve liked during its last earnings call.

MercuryNews.com further cites a Video Advertising Bureau study about Facebook ad numbers:

“Using VAB’s study, San Jose had one of the highest inflation rates at 91 percent. Facebook claimed there were 490,000 San Jose residents between 18 and 34 years of age who could be reached, but Census data showed there were only 256,000 residents in the age group. The highest metropolitan inflation rate went to Dallas at 216 percent.”

What do you think, marketers?

Please respond in the comments section below.


Heather Fletcher is senior content editor with Target Marketing.
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