How Facebook’s feed purge could expose publishers to fraud

One unintended consequence of Facebook’s feed purge is that it may make publishers more vulnerable to ad fraud.

With Facebook favoring user content and deprioritizing publishers’ posts in its news feed, publishers will turn to traffic resellers to make up for the clicks they’re losing from Facebook, said independent ad fraud consultant Augustine Fou. The traffic brokers found through online forums and LinkedIn tend to specialize in low-cost traffic that’s of low quality, though. More than 90 percent of the sites that DoubleVerify flags for having high levels of fraud purchase clicks from traffic resellers.

An exec at a digital lifestyle publisher, speaking on the condition of anonymity, anticipated buying more traffic to make up what his site loses from organic visits. This publisher has people devoted to making money on paid Facebook traffic through arbitrage and has gotten the cost down to a few cents a click.

Publishers that don’t already focus on buying Facebook traffic won’t be able to afford those prices at scale, so they’ll likely turn to traffic sellers whose costs per click are under a cent.

Publishers that pay celebrities like George Takei and Lil Wayne to promote their content on Facebook are also likely to find themselves in a precarious situation. Facebook has told publishers that people will see less content from celebrities in their news feed. Facebook did not reply to an interview request for this story.

“Publishers that rely on celebrities will scramble and turn to lower-tier traffic markets,” the publisher exec said. “Those that don’t know how to do proper audience targeting [with paid Facebook traffic] will get crushed.”

Jonathan Mendez, board member of ad tech firm Yieldbot, said that when Facebook and Google change their algorithms to reduce organic traffic, a swath of publishers reacts by purchasing cheap clicks from traffic brokers. Getting industrywide data on this effect is difficult because publishers typically don’t publicly admit to buying traffic, even though the practice is common, and getting data from the traffic brokers requires sleuthing.

Facebook at least has real human users, which can’t be said of many traffic sellers. If publishers turn to traffic sellers as a shortcut to replace their declining referrals from Facebook, then they’ll likely end up with a high amount of fraud that drives down their CPMs, Mendez said.

Of course, publishers aren’t blameless in this scenario. Nobody forced publishers to become dependent on Facebook, just as nobody is going to force publishers to buy cheap clicks when Facebook rips the rug out from underneath them. But platform-dependent publishers that are already feeling strained are likely to look for a new source of cheap clicks, according to an ad fraud exec, speaking anonymously.

“If the publishers are running light on traffic, they will take steps to buy the traffic, and so they are contributing to fraud,” the ad fraud source said. “In their desperation, they may make the entire ecosystem worse.”

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