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Why Facebook’s Automatic Captioning is Not Worth the Risk to Your Brand

  • woman horrified by bad automatic captions on Facebook video

    In February 2016, Facebook announced it would be rolling out an automated captioning feature for select Facebook video advertisers.

    It released this news along with the results of an internal study that showed closed captions increase view time on Facebook videos by 12%.

    Because Facebook videos auto-play on mute, closed captions are instrumental in capturing viewers’ attention while scrolling down their news feed. Closed captions are also necessary to make videos accessible to people with hearing disabilities, learning or cognitive disabilities, or who are simply watching video in a sound-sensitive environment. Overall, captioning Facebook videos makes them more watchable.

    Facebook allows all users (not just advertisers) to upload a closed caption file to their videos. (See free tutorial on adding captions to Facebook videos.)

    Select advertisers are offered the option to select automatic captioning for their ad videos, at no extra cost.

    How Bad Are Automatic Captions?


    If you haven’t experienced automatic captions yourself, try taking the #CaptionFail quiz and see if you can decipher them.

    #CaptionFails: What Did They Really Say?

    This option seems too good to be true — and it is.

    The Problem with Automatic Captioning

    Facebook’s automatic captions are entirely machine-generated using speech-to-text technology.

    Unfortunately, automatic speech recognition (ASR) technology alone can’t produce accurate captions reliably.

    Human editors are still needed to review automatic captions, and ASR technology is unlikely to make humans redundant anytime soon.

    YouTube uses state-of-the-art ASR technology to produce their automatic captions, which, while well-intentioned, have caused embarrassing mistakes to go live on published videos.

    Inaccurate autocaptions have even inspired the #NoMoreCraptions campaign to advocate for better captioning on YouTube.

    The Risk in Facebook Autocaptioning

    Facebook’s automatic captioning option for an ad video looks like this:

    Generate Captions Automatically: options to choose Manual Review or let Facebook review captions

    An advertiser can choose to either personally review the captions for quality or outsource the task to Facebook. Either way, automatic captions are not expected to go live without careful review.

    The problems here are quality control and hidden cost.

    If you choose to have an employee review the captions, this costs you money. The person reviewing the captions will need to be trained in best practices, and time they spend reviewing captions could be spent on less tedious tasks.

    Choose to hand the task off to an untrained contractor or an intern, and you’re more likely to have quality issues that could damage your reputation. (It only takes one type-o to make a #CaptionFail go viral.)

    If you choose to let Facebook review your captions, you don’t have much control over quality.

    Can you trust that they will be thorough in catching mistakes?

    Are their caption editors native English speakers?

    What is the recourse if something slips through the cracks?

    Will you need to assign someone internally to perform QC reviews? (And what does that cost?)

    These are all concerns to consider.

    What Are Your Other Options?

    Instead of choosing Facebook’s automatic captioning, you can create your own caption files or hire a professional captioning company to produce captions for you. A good captioning vendor will have set standards, guaranteed accuracy rates, and reliably meet deadlines.

    Once you have your captions, you can upload them to Facebook with a couple of clicks.

    For more info check out our free guide on adding captions to Facebook videos:

    Download Free Guide: How To Add Captions & Subtitles to Facebook Videos

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