The Little Lies Facebook Almost Put In Its IPO Filing

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If it weren't for some Security and Exchanges Commission vetting, Facebook would have gotten away with the following lie in its pre-IPO filings:

In an attempt to make its social advertising scheme look more magical than it actually was, Facebook cited a Nielsen study when that information really came from its own marketing materials, report Bloomberg's Linda Sandler, Brian Womack, and Douglas MacMillan. Once Barbara Jacobs, an assistant director for corporation finance at the SEC, asked Facebook to produce the study, Facebook's Chief Financial Officer (and noted Facebook IPO schemer) David Ebersman "dropped the reference after initial resistance," they write. That passage in the amended S-1 read as follows: 

Social Ads. We offer tools to advertisers to display social context alongside their ads. As a result, advertisers are able to differentiate their products and complement their marketing messages with trusted recommendations from users’ friends. Our recent analysis of 79 advertising campaigns on Facebook demonstrated a greater than 50% increase in ad recall for Facebook ads with social context as compared to Facebook ads that did not have social context.

Of course, Facebook's own analysis has less of a punch than something from a third party like Nielsen. Though, in March, a month after the original filing and a month before the amended one, Nielsen did report that exact finding. So, it's curious that Facebook wouldn't have been able to point to this and sneak it in there before the IPO. 

The Nielsen slip-up wasn't the only point of contention between the SEC and Facebook, as Sandler, Womack and MacMillan explain it. Ebersman also battled with Jacobs over the company's mobile business. If it weren't for this kind request, "Please explain to us how you determined that your metrics are not overstated," the social network would have snuck in some inaccurate metrics about its smartphone advertising. But following some push back, by March Facebook relented, admitting in a new filing that mobile at that time didn't "currently generate any meaningful revenue."

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The rest, as they say, is Facebook's dismal stock history. Earlier this week it appeared for a brief moment that it might be rallying due to various new advertising schemes. That lift has since fizzled, which analysts say has a lot to do with mobile, writes the Los Angeles Times's Jessica Guynn. Not that the company hasn't tried to make itself look dedicated to mobile: Facebook has put a lot of effort into making itself a mobile first company, including updating its sluggish app, and smartphones were all CEO Mark Zuckerberg could talk about in his first public appearance since the IPO at the TechCrunch Disrupt Conference

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.