Facebook Is Building an Empire on Stolen Video, and YouTubers Are Getting Screwed

Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

You've seen a lot of stolen content lately.

Maybe you didn't realize it — you were probably just scrolling through your Facebook News Feed. Facebook is filled with news reports, Vine compilations, how-to instructionals and other viral clips uploaded straight to the site. Often, the uploaders haven't created the clips. They're made by third parties capitalizing on the success of Facebook video. It works. Those videos collect staggering amounts of views, likes and shares. 

YouTubers' work is being ripped off wholesale, and the YouTube community is starting to stand up and say they're sick of the theft. Hank Green, who runs the VlogBrothers channel with his brother, John, author of The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns (and a YouTube celeb in his own right), posted his grievances about Facebook's content kleptocracy this week to Medium. The essay is called "Theft, Lies and Facebook Video." 

"Facebook is big enough that it shouldn't need to resort to these tactics to build its video presence," Green wrote. "It makes them look weak to be so excited about skyrocketing numbers if those numbers are based on cheating, lies, and theft."

John and Hank Green
Source: 
FilmMagic/Getty Images

It's Facebook vs. YouTube in the war on Web video — and right now, Facebook has the most momentum. Facebook now boasts 4 billion daily video views, a stat YouTube claimed back in 2012. (YouTube now just lists its daily views in the billions.) Snapchat, too, is closing in, claiming 3 billion daily views. In June, 8,452 Facebook videos collected more than 1 million views vs. 5,919 on YouTube. 

YouTube, however, has discovery and community on its side. Watch a YouTube video and you may get sucked away into a world of sketch comedy, social media stars and video game streamers

Facebook doesn't have this same sense of community, but it's keeping users around by throwing video in their faces, promoting direct video uploads and suppressing links to YouTube clips. It's only natural Facebook would rather you watch Facebook videos instead of YouTube videos. Facebook wants you to stay right there on Facebook for as long as you possibly can.

Hank Green had three major points about why Facebook is a hostile environment for artists and creators. In response, Matt Pakes, Facebook's product manager for video, addressed each one

Here are the three points of debate:

1. Facebook rigs the game to give them home-court advantage. 

Green says: If you post a YouTube link, the algorithms Facebook uses to surface content will push that video to the side. But if you download that content and post it to Facebook, Facebook will allow it to reach its intended audience.

Facebook's response: Yeah, people like it this way better. Sorry.

Facebook's priority is not what artists need. Facebook's priority is what's good for Facebook.

2. Facebook counts basically anything as a "view." 

Green says: For YouTube, a single view is tallied when you watch a video for 30 seconds. What's more, to see a video, you have to find it and click play. On Facebook, a video will count as a view after three seconds — and it autoplays in your feed, which means anything you scroll past relatively slowly will count. Even with the sound off.

YouTube counts a single view as when someone has been watching for about 30 seconds, and to see a YouTube video, you have to elect to see it either by going to the video's page or clicking on it. On Facebook, a video that autoplays in your feed will count as a view three seconds in, even if you haven't noticed the video start to play or haven't turned the sound on. The problem is, Facebook is advertising that people are watching their videos in droves — but that's not always the case. 

Facebook's response: Hey, whatever, everyone has a different idea of what a view is anyway. Or, as Pakes put it, "If you have stayed on a video for at least three seconds, it signals to us that you are not simply scrolling through feed and you've shown intent to watch that video." So as for thinking those passing views don't really count:

Source: Gramercy Pictures

3. Facebook won't stop people from stealing YouTube content. 

Green says: YouTube has systems in place to help creators find their stolen content and either get it taken down or take the advertising profits for themselves. But because Facebook isn't searchable — and because Facebook isn't desperately trying to help creators make money — people can steal a popular YouTuber's content, get all of the views for their own page and never be found out. Green writes:

According to a recent report from Ogilvy and Tubular Labs, of the 1000 most popular Facebook videos of Q1 2015, 725 were stolen re-uploads. Just these 725 "freebooted" videos were responsible for around 17 BILLION views last quarter. This is not insignificant, it's the vast majority of Facebook's high volume traffic.

Facebook's response: OK, addressing this problem is hard. Also, "we have a team working on it and expect to have more to share later this summer."

Source: YouTube

But here's what Facebook will never be able to replace:

Whether or not Facebook is playing a dirty game, it's still an extremely limited place for creators to get their work out and reach a wider audience. Unlike YouTube, where artists and broadcasters can make and organize channels, collaborate with other broadcasters and send notifications out to their subscribers, Facebook controls the ease with which publishers can reach their fans. You can customize what you see in your News Feed and, generally, how often a page you like can pop up. But that content is still curated by a Facebook algorithm.

Facebook is not searchable. Facebook does not have a business model that helps broadcasters make money. Facebook does not help artists actively reach their fans. After all, Facebook's priority is what's good for Facebook: that no one's tempted by these meddling artists to leave the News Feed.

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Jack Smith IV

Jack Smith IV is a senior writer covering technology and inequality. Send tips, comments and feedback to jack@mic.com.

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