Facebook is under fire in a new set of documents in a lawsuit, which allege the company knew for years that paid advertising services on the site were exaggerating and distorting the number of people who would see the ads, according to a report by the Financial Times.
The numbers, according to the documents, often included fake or duplicate accounts, thereby inflating the actual effect the ads would have.
Some top Facebook officials, such as Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and Chief Financial Officer David Wehner, were quoted in the newly released documents as having communications as far back as 2017 where they seemed to know about the issue, although most of the quotes are redacted.
The new documents state that those officials had expressed worry about the issue but ultimately did nothing about it. Sandberg allegedly made "substantive comments" at a meeting about the issue, and Wehner also made such comments, although he ended up not mentioning the direct impact of the problem, the documents claim.
Facebook has said the claim was baseless and the company would be defending itself "vigorously."
The lawsuit was originally filed by a small business owner in 2018. The lawsuit said Facebook sold its advertising reach metrics as stats that represented the number of people an ad could reach overall, when in reality, the number included the total number of accounts the ad could reach, a statistic that could include numerous bots or fake accounts.
Sometimes, the lawsuit stated, the numbers reported by the ad metrics in some states ended up larger than the entire population of said states. The complaint said Facebook's actions were "deliberate and misleading," and as of March 3, the social media site still hadn't removed the fake and duplicate accounts from the ad metric calculations.
According to Facebook's own numbers, duplicate accounts represented around 11 percent of the 2.5 billion active users per month at the end of last year. Fake accounts represented another 5 percent, the stats said.
Fake social media profiles have become prevalent online and have had cascading effects, such as loss of revenue and even cybercrime, where the accounts are connected to scams in which personal information is stolen or misinformation is shared.