A post on blog publishing platform Medium by Hank Green, titled “Theft, Lies and Facebook video" has put Facebook in the dock, as it casts aspersions on Facebook’s booming online video business. Unfazed, Facebook was quick to issue a defence. Product manager of videos at Facebook, Matt Pakes, wrote a blog post responding to Green on the same website.

Green is an American entrepreneur who makes YouTube videos for a living. His channel Vlogbrothers boasts more than 2.5 million subscribers. He outlines three main issues he has against the way Facebook conducts its video business.

To put matters in perspective, we look at both sides of the story.

Accusation 1: Facebook lies about counting video views

As per the company’s second-quarter earnings report last week, Facebook boasts of 4 billion video views each day, while YouTube has at least 1 billion users as both companies battle for original content from video creators, big budgets from advertisers and the undivided attention of viewers.

According to Green, Facebook is presenting inflated numbers by counting “views" at the 3-second mark, irrespective of whether the viewer has even turned on the sound and is watching the video. Green claims that at the 3-second mark, 90% of people are still scrolling the page “watching" this silent animated GIF. But by 30 seconds, when Facebook should actually start counting the views, only 20% of the audience are actually “viewing" the video. Thus, Green argues that Facebook is counting 90% of viewers who come in at 3 seconds but don’t stay on to watch the video, which is erroneous.

On the other hand, Hank says, YouTube’s methodology of counting views is logical as it starts counting the views at around 30 seconds, when people are more likely to engage with the video. He slams the social media company by adding: “When Facebook says it has roughly the same number of views as YouTube, what they really mean is that they have roughly one-fifth of YouTube’s views, since they’re intentionally and blatantly over-counting to the detriment of everyone except them."

While we could not verify the same, the YouTube Help Center does say that as part of the company’s long-standing effort to keep YouTube authentic and full of meaningful interactions, the company has begun to periodically audit the views a video has received. “While in the past we would scan views for spam immediately after they occurred, starting today we will periodically validate the video’s view count, removing fraudulent views as new evidence comes to light. We don’t expect this approach to affect more than a minuscule fraction of videos on YouTube, but we believe it’s crucial to improving the accuracy of view counts and maintaining the trust of our fans and creators."

Facebook’s response

Facebook defended itself by giving Mint detailed stats about how it counts videos and the other tools it has deployed to ensure authenticity.

Any video that plays for three or more seconds on Facebook (either mobile or desktop) is considered a “view". If you have stayed on a video for at least three seconds, it signals to us that you are not simply scrolling through feed and you’ve shown intent to watch that video. Three seconds is also an industry standard definition that comScore, a global media measurement and analytics company, uses. comScore maintains that video views are inclusive of both user-initiated and auto-played videos that are viewed for longer than 3 seconds.

The Facebook spokesperson also mentioned that the company offers detailed metrics and tools to help creators better understand how people respond to their videos on Facebook. Tools such as Page Insights and Ads Reporting are designed to help advertisers learn what’s resonating with people and determine how to more effectively create and promote their videos on Facebook.

“We also recently announced a new 10-second viewing option that allows advertisers to feel more assured that Facebook users are actually seeing and paying attention to their videos," said the spokesperson in an email response.

Accusation #2: Facebook does not monitor uploaded videos

According to Green, Facebook “steals" as it is not able to sift original content from content that is freebooted, unlike its rival YouTube. Freebooting is the practice of downloading copyrighted content from a media hosting website and re-uploading it without the creator’s permission, in order to garner a large following or for commercial profit. Green uses figures from a report by Ogilvy and Tubular Labs to claim that of the 1,000 most popular Facebook videos in the first quarter of this year, 725 were stolen re-uploads or freebooted videos, responsible for 17 billion views.

Green says that “Facebook’s algorithms encourage this theft... they’ll take the video down a couple days after you let them know. Y’know, once it’s received 99.9% of the views it will ever receive."

YouTube, on the other hand, does a great job with this by using a content ID system that helps to identify and manage content on YouTube. The system analyzes video content for potential copyright infringement and copyright owners can claim advertising revenue from a video that is their own, but they did not upload. Of course, Green admits that YouTube placed this system only after it faced similar issues with piracy in its infancy.

Facebook’s response

As regards unauthorized video uploads, Pakes acknowledged that it’s a significant technical challenge but they are working on it.

He writes in his blog: “We take intellectual property rights very seriously. We have used the Audible Magic system for years to help prevent unauthorized video content on Facebook. We also provide reporting tools for content owners to report possible copyright infringement. As video continues to grow rapidly on Facebook, we’re actively exploring further solutions to help IP owners identify and manage potential infringing content, tailored for our unique platform and ecosystem. This is a significant technical challenge at our scale, but we have a team working on it and expect to have more to share later this summer."

Accusation #3: Facebook cheats by boosting videos posted

Green’s last point is around the fact that a YouTube video embedded on Facebook will have fewer views than a video that is natively posted on Facebook. A native video is uploaded as a raw file directly to Facebook, versus posting a video as a link from an external site such as YouTube.

Facebook’s response

In response, Pakes said in his blog, “Native videos often do better than video links, but this is because people tend to prefer watching native videos over clicking on a link and waiting for something to load."

Green’s rants seem to have opened up a Pandora’s Box. It’s time the companies used feedback like this constructively to protect the rights of independent video creators.

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