Yo Facebook, Ban Links With Fake Video Play Buttons

Oh, cute cat video? Let me watch that for a second in the News Feed. Click the play button. NOPE. It was a lie. Just a static image of a play button designed to dupe me into clicking out to some crappy website. Feed reading, interrupted. User experience, injured. Likelihood I’ll click legitimate videos in the future, diminished. Facebook. Seriously. This BS needs to stop.

[Update 8/17/17: Three years later, Facebook is finally downranking spammers who use the fake video play button trick.]

I get it. Sites are trying to convey they have video content to share, so they stick a fake play button on the link preview thumbnail image. But what they really want is my ad views, and they’re willing to trick me to get them.


That play button is fake. ARRRGGGHH!

They could have put “Watch:” or “[Video]” in their link’s headline, but then I’d get to make the choice if I wanted to click away from Facebook to watch. Instead, they just make Facebook worse. They burn YouTube’s credibility too as most of these sites use the YouTube play button to fool us.

And the most annoying part is that often, the videos they’re trying to get me to watch on their own websites are:

  • YouTube videos that could have been embedded and played in-line on Facebook
  • Not created by that website, but instead just grabbed from some other hardworking creator and wrapped with no context or insight but plenty of ads

Even worse. Sometimes these posts seem to get into my feed because the websites are paying Facebook to promote them as ads.

Let’s take “Hidden Camera Proves The True Nature Of Pit Bulls. Must See.” from the slimy site PetFlow.com. Judging by the look of this Facebook story, you’d think you could click and watch the video in-line, right? Wrong.


Another fake play button. BOOOO

Click that play button and instead you end up here on this ad-filled monstrosity surrounding a standard YouTube video:

Where I end up

Crappy, ad-filled site these fake play buttons lead to

This cantankerous strategy expands beyond video to GIFs as well. Facebook won’t play them in-line, which is simultaneously a bit annoying though it also probably saves us from tons of inanity. But slapping a fake play button on them so I click out to your site makes¬†hope a meteor lands on your server farm.


They’re evolving! The fake GIF

Here’s how to spot real videos that are safe to click. Facebook and Instagram videos show a gray play button and often will auto-play if you hover over them. They also won’t show a link to any other website. Real YouTube Videos have a little half-width video preview thumbnail with a white on gray play button on the bottom left of the News Feed story and say they point to YouTube. Vimeo have a full-width preview image and say they point to Vimeo. Both have play buttons that animate slightly if you hover over them, letting you know they’re not a fake, static image.


What a real, in-line playable YouTube video looks like on Facebook

But you shouldn’t need instructions to know the different.¬†Facebook needs to take a stand. Don’t show anyone posts like this. Don’t run ads that bait-and-switch people like this. And destroy the News Feed visibility of any business who tries to share these. If this vile trickery is already prohibited, do a better job of enforcing the ban.

Otherwise, you’re teaching us not to click video posts on Facebook. That’s a dangerous call considering videos are one reason the Internet is better than going outside.