Facebook claims a third more users in the US than people who exist

Are we looking at an advertising house of cards?

By Kieren McCarthy in San Francisco

91 SHARE ▼

Facebook promises advertisers access to more US customers than actually exist.

That's according to an investment analyst who had long held that Facebook is misleading the market on what its actual digital reach is, and recommends a "sell" on the social media giant's stock.

Facebook has an extensive and sophisticated ad-buying system that assures potential advertisers it can reach no fewer than 41 million of a core target group of 18 to 24-year-olds in the United States.

The only problem, analyst Brian Wieser of Pivotal Research Group pointed out in a note to customers, is that there are only 31 million of them that actually exist in the US, according to the official census data. The same gap in reality also holds for other groups, including the next most-targeted group of 25 to 34-year-olds.

There are very few independent checks on the accuracy of information and data provided by Facebook, Google and other digital companies that monetize their huge user bases by offering targeted advertising.

Facebook is also renowned in the ad-buying business for being a black hole, particularly when it comes to things like paying for Facebook to get Facebook users to "like" your Facebook page – a circular money flow that boggles the mind.

But for those hoping to target millennials, the company's ubiquity is a good solution to a hard-to-reach group that does not use traditional media such as TV or radio anywhere near as much. Claiming more users than actually exist is a stretch even by Facebook's standard, however.

By design

Of course, Zuckerberg's Monster has an answer for why this isn't a problem. The audiences it offers to advertisers are only estimates that do not match real-world figures "by design" according to the company, because they account for a "number of factors, including Facebook user behaviors, user demographics, and location data from devices."

Say that again?

The estimates "are designed to estimate how many people in a given area are eligible to see an ad a business might run," the company said in a statement. "They are not designed to match population or census estimates."

How do you say 'whoops!' in Russian?

Facebook admitted to congressional investigators it sold web ads during the US presidential election to a Russian company seeking to target American voters, it was reported Wednesday.

What does that mean in plain English? One of two things. Either Facebook knows better than the US government who is actually living in the country (tens of millions of illegal immigrants and tourists maybe?), or the website is flooded with fake profiles. We're willing to bet on the latter.

Despite recent often-criticized efforts to get its users to supply their real personal data, Facebook is still almost entirely reliant on users to self-report their age, sex, location and other information. There is also nothing to stop anyone from creating fake personas or profiles. So the question is: how many profiles are fake? It could be as high as half of them.

As has been noted repeatedly in recent years, on social media you may be spending much of your time and your advertising money talking to computer-generated bots that exist solely to game systems and boost specific posts or articles. As we saw with the fake news controversy earlier this year.

The problem is that Facebook has a massive financial incentive to present the highest possible figures. While Facebook does not charge per estimated audience but by user view, every ad view and click equates to real dollars.

It is a fair bet that when a company claims it has 32 per cent more users than actual live people, a big chunk of your advertising dollars is going down straight into the platform's pockets with nothing in return.

Sponsored: The Joy and Pain of Buying IT - Have Your Say

Next page: Realities


More from The Register

Facebook's music plans mean you'll never leave Facebook

Analysis Roach motel


Facebook fails in bid for streaming sports rights

Indian Premier League cricket rejects Zuck's ~US$600m bid in favour of Murdoch moolah


Apache says 'no' to Facebook code libraries

Anti-patent-lawsuit restrictions land tools on banned list


Facebook's left hand is fighting for Americans' right to privacy

The right hand? Go on, guess


Facebook gives itself mission to 'bring the world closer' by getting people off Facebook

Analysis Zuckerberg preaches connectivity gospel, sends faithful to do good works


Facebook will deny ads to repeat promoters of fake news

Sharing network hopes to hit hoaxers where it hurts


Facebook won't change React.js license despite Apache developer pain

We love open source so much we can't drop sueball shield, says The Social Network™


German court says 'Nein' on Facebook profile access request

Berlin bench rules against parents' access to teen's account

Gallery RSS RSS Feed | Archive View | Powered by Zenphoto | rotections: Public Domain. Non-Commercial. Fair Use. Freedom of The Press. No Tracking Of Public Allowed. First Amendment Protections, SLAPP, UN Protected. GDPR Compliant. Section 203 protected. Privacy Tools At:, ACLU, ICIJ- supported. If you sue us to try to hide and censor the news, you are allowing us to bypass the demurrer process, and we will counter-sue you for RICO, Anti-trust, Political Bribery, Sex Trafficking, Interference, First Amendment and your other crimes, which we have FBI-grade evidence for! Bring it on corrupt Tesla, Google, Facebook, Youtube, Netflix! We might even get DOJ and/or FTC to partner with us (again) to take your filthy corrupt companies down!....REAL NEWS does not have ads in it. Any news source, with ads in it, is fake news manipulated by the advertisers!....DOWNLOAD AND COPY THIS NEWS SITE. USE ANY FREE SERVER SPACE YOU FIND ON THE WEB. MAKE YOUR OWN DIGITAL NEWSPAPER. JOIN THE HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF FREE NEWS SITES, LIKE THIS, AROUND THE WORLD AND DELIVER THE NEWS AND DEMOCRACY. PLEASE FOLLOW THE WIKIPEDIA RULES FOR POSTING. BE THE NEWS!