Hank Green is one half of the Vlogbrothers duo, whose YouTube channel has more than 552m views and 2.6 million subscribers. He also co-founded the influential VidCon conference.
As the title of his Theft, Lies, and Facebook Video blog post published this week makes clear, Green isn’t pulling any punches in his criticism of Facebook, although he also admits that it is an “interesting, emerging platform” for online video publishers.
Theft and lies, though? The former relates to the issue of “freebooting”, where people rip videos from YouTube and upload them to Facebook without the original creator’s permission, while the latter relates to Facebook’s statistics on video views.
Green is unhappy about the fact that videos uploaded natively to Facebook – which the social network says are being watched more than 4bn times a day – appear to be prioritised over embedded YouTube videos in its news feed algorithm.
“A [Vlogbrothers] SciShow YouTube video embedded on Facebook will reach between 20,000 and 50,000 people and be viewed by hundreds of people. The same video uploaded natively will get a reach of between 60,000 and 150,000 and be ‘viewed’ by tens of thousands,” he wrote.
Green is also unhappy that Facebook’s public stats for video views count anything longer than three seconds as a “view”, including those that have played automatically in someone’s news feed before they scroll on past them.
“This might seem a little like this is a victimless crime, but it fundamentally devalues the #1 metric of online video. The view is the thing that everyone talks about and it’s the thing creators sell to advertisers in order to make a living,” wrote Green.
“Applying that word to something far less valuable is going to be extremely disruptive to creators. Ad agencies and brands are confused enough without Facebook muddying the waters by calling something a view when it is in no way a measure of viewership.”
Green thinks these two issues are combining to fuel Facebook’s freebooting problem, as people – including media companies and brands – try to bump up their stats by ripping popular YouTube videos and uploading them to Facebook from their own accounts.
He cited recent research from Ogilvy and Tubular Labs claiming that 725 of the 1,000 most popular Facebook videos in the first quarter of 2015 were freebooted.
“This is not insignificant, it’s the vast majority of Facebook’s high volume traffic. And no wonder, when embedding a YouTube video on your company’s Facebook page is a sure way to see it die a sudden death, we shouldn’t be surprised when they rip it off YouTube and upload it natively,” wrote Green. “Facebook’s algorithms encourage this theft.”
Green is not alone in criticising Facebook’s freebooting culture. In June, the chief executive of multi-channel network (MCN) Fullscreen said his company was suffering from similar piracy.
“I love FB video but getting very tired of seeing our videos ripped there with no way to monitor or monetize. Remember that YT was sued by Viacom for over $1BN for this,” wrote George Strompolos, as part of a Facebook-focused tweetstorm.
“I now regularly see our videos with 50M+ view counts that are stolen by individuals on FB ... sometimes by other media companies,” continued Strompolos. “It costs us a lot to hunt them down one by one. I’m a huge DMCA proponent, but this has to improve fast. Frankly, I’m shocked that a rights holder with deep pockets has not sued yet.”
These issues are particularly sensitive in 2015, as Facebook is preparing to start selling advertising around videos uploaded to its network, and sharing the revenues with the uploaders – raising fears that freebooting may soon pay off in more than likes, shares and comments. Of course YouTube itself can also be criticised for hosting videos ripped from elsewhere and uploaded to the platform, a point that seems to have escaped Green.
Green, Strompolos and others want Facebook to develop something similar to YouTube’s Content ID system, so that creators can automatically detect unauthorised uploads of their videos and either get them taken down, or claim any revenues being made from them.
Facebook’s product manager for video, Matt Pakes, has since responded to Green’s post on Medium with his own article published on the blogging site.
Pakes defended the higher reach of native videos compared to YouTube embeds on Facebook, saying it’s simply because people are more likely to interact with the former than the latter.
“Native video posts with auto-play tend to see better engagement, more watch time and higher view counts. It’s a nuanced but important point: 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,” he wrote.
Pakes also defended the three-second definition of a video view - “While there is no broad industry standard for view measurement, three seconds is one common choice, and gives us a consistent metric for all video on Facebook” - and hinted at plans to do more to fight freebooting.
“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,” he wrote.
“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.”
This article was written by Stuart Dredge, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 4th August 2015 10.21 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010