The running tech industry joke that is the continued existence of early stage social networking site MySpace just turned into even more of a joke. Once valued at $12 billion, the forgotten MySpace does still exist. But in a story that will surprise no one familiar with the online advertising sector that calls itself “ad tech”, a large part of the site has been shut down after the publication of a BuzzFeed News investigative report that found hundreds of millions of pageviews that were bot-generated and not human web traffic.
It’s not the MySpace home page that’s been shut down, and you’re free to try and log in to your old account if you remember your 2004-era password. Instead, a video page called trendingvideos.myspace.com had been banished to 404 status. Buzzfeed’s report comes on the heels of their investigative piece from last week on the millions of fraudulent ad views racked up on “zombie websites” in the online ad industry.
“Once on the [trendingvideos.myspace.com] page, this traffic triggered automatic redirects and page refreshes that generated massive amounts of video ad impressions without any human involvement,” writes BuzzFeed News’ Craig Silverman. “It’s similar to how the 'zombie websites' generated ad revenue, and represents a new form of ad fraud that researchers say can rack up impressions quickly and under the radar.”
This particular BuzzFeed report found that MySpace’s trending videos page received 9.7 million visits and more than 450 million pageviews between May and September, pretty much all of it fraudulent. (In ad tech lingo, the “visits” are like an individual person visiting the web page, wheres the page views are that person’s clicks.) But these weren’t people, and the bot scheme used on MySpace and a series of local news websites owned by GateHouse Media defrauded big-name advertisers like Coca-Cola, Verizon, State Farm, and other recognized brands.
MySpace may be passe, but they’re up to date on the popular, modern-day ‘we’re just a platform’ defense. “Myspace did not agree to, participate in or condone any ad fraud activity,” said VP of marketing and communications for Viant, the Time, Inc. subsidiary that now owns MySpace. The company claims the pages were operated by a partner.
This MySpace mini-scandal is symptomatic of the new prevalence of video advertising online. You know those god-awful autoplay video ads on some websites? Advertisers and website owners love them, and the video ad format has spawned a “pivot to video” movement where websites in a rush to substitute video content for text. (This is why you see more videos on Facebook these days.) While video ads bring in much higher rates and brands think the videos “engage” consumers more, videos also engage more fake bot traffic. It's a funny laugher that MySpace got nailed by video ad bot fraud, but it's not unreasonable to expect more well-known and currently lucrative websites to have the exact same scandal in the future.