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Facebook Advertising Chief Worried About Whether It Overstated Reach

Financial Times

April 26, 2021

Carolyn Everson’s emails in long-running lawsuit say social network should ‘prepare for worst’

Carolyn Everson, one of Facebook’s most senior advertising executives, said the company had to “prepare for the worst” over claims that it overstated the reach of its advertisements, according to newly released court filings.

The world’s largest social network has been fighting a class-action lawsuit in California since 2018 over claims that its “potential reach metric”, which told advertisers how many people saw their ads, included duplicate and fake accounts.

Facebook has argued that the numbers were only estimates and that advertisers are charged for actual clicks and impressions, rather than for the potential reach of an ad.

But according to filings in the lawsuit that were unredacted over the weekend, Everson, the vice-president of Facebook’s global business group, wrote an email in 2017 that said the metric “clearly impacted [advertisers’] planning”.

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The lawsuit, which was filed in northern California in 2018 by a small-business owner, alleges that Facebook executives knew the potential reach figure was “misleading” and took no action to correct it in order to “preserve its own bottom line”.

It points to research showing Facebook had suggested potential reach in certain US states and demographics that was greater than the actual populations in those geographies.

A Financial Times investigation in 2019 found similar discrepancies in Facebook’s ads manager, an online tool to help advertisers build campaigns, even though the company made some changes to its potential reach definition earlier that year.

Parts of the filings had initially been sealed largely on the grounds that they were commercially sensitive for Facebook.

Cohen Milstein represents a putative class of advertisers who claim that Facebook’s key advertising metrics are false and misleading due to systemic inflation of Facebook’s user base. Learn more about the case.

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