Facebook: Now you can annoy your friends even more… for a fee

5 Oct

Facebook is eagerly (desperately?) looking for revenue by looking for creative ways to exploit your personal information.  No news there.  Move along folks…

But just a minute, maybe this particular droid deserves a second look.  Facebook is rolling out a new feature in the U.S. called “Promoted Posts.”  Already tested in the shires of New Zealand and gradually rolled out in 20 other countries so far, but now it’s hitting North America.  Still a bit sketchy, but more details here https://www.facebook.com/help/promote.   Josh Constine at TechCrunch estimates that the cost will be about $7 a pop.  (http://techcrunch.com/2012/10/03/us-promoted-posts/)

Ok, what’s good about this?    …  {long silence}   

Alright, let me rephrase my question.   What fresh Facebook hell is this?   

Well first off, it becomes much harder for you to avoid the material you may not want.  Every mom with a few too many lattes on board is now upping your odds of you being subjected to that incredibly precious picture of her 3 year old covered with spaghetti and tomato sauce.  Your politically crazy “friend” from high school now gets to grab your eyeballs to explain his latest conspiracy theory.  You get the picture– the stuff you used to overlook or bury is now getting promoting into your prime visual real estate.  The only upside of this is that promoting posts might lead to a wave of defriending.  In fact, now that I think about it, I’m going to defriend anybody who promotes a post at me (assuming I’ll be able to tell).

Some worry that this will favor the wealthier users — so we end up seeing the posts of people who can pay  far more than those who can’t.  Fair point. But there are at least two further effects that are just as disturbing when you stop to think about it.

First, as promoted content becomes more prevalent, Facebook will become less social.  My Facebook friends tolerate my occasional fishing pictures and tasteless comments because, well, we’re part of a social network.  And social relationships are reciprocal — I tolerate your stuff, you tolerate mine.  But promoted posts change the equation. They make less about reciprocal relationships and more about just paying the 7 bucks.  Aside from the fact that it allows cash to override judgment, the problem is that promoted posts blur the line between Facebook and… what… maybe Craigslist?   I know, I know:  how about telemarketing! 

Second, and this is more subtle, promoted posts from actual people in my social network are different and have different long term social implications than promoted posts from recognized commercial or nonprofit entities.  In the latter case, we recognize and accept that they are promiting self-interests.  In the case of promoted content from friends, however, you come to the realization, however dimly, that your personal relationship with this person has just been treated as a commodity.  I get why I might want to promote a special event like a wedding, but we all know it won’t stop there.  Instead, as promoted posts expand, our social relationships will increasingly be treated as marketing opportunities.  The commercial mindset bleeds into personal and private behavior.  That’s probably not a good thing– though I don’t plan on paying $7 to say so on Facebook.


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