Facebook's worst idea yet: Paid post promotion

Summary:What if Facebook let you pay to promote your posts? That's exactly what the company is testing right now: the Highlight feature lets you pay to spam every single one of your Facebook friends.

Facebook this week started testing a system that lets users pay to promote their posts. Out of all the various different features the social networking giant has trialed on its website, this idea is by far the worst one yet. It sounds like an April Fools' joke, but it isn't.

"We're constantly testing new features across the site," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. "This particular test is simply to gauge people's interest in this method of sharing with their friends."

The tests are being carried out in New Zealand, a popular Facebook choice for testing something before a broader rollout. I'm hoping the tests don't go well, and Facebook users make it clear to the company they don't want to pay to highlight their stories.

Your typical News Feed story reaches just 12 percent of your friends. That's just the average: a story can become less or more popular depending on various metrics used by the News Feed algorithm.

That's the beauty of it: my Facebook friends get to decide if my latest status update is important enough for other Facebook friends to see. If I post something boring, it doesn't get promoted as much because fewer people Like it, comment on it, and so on. If I post something interesting, more people engage with it, and thus more people get to see it.

Highlight would destroy that. As you can see in the screenshot above, courtesy of Stuff, the potential new feature lets you pay a small fee to ensure that your story is visible to more of your Facebook friends.

Paid post promotion already exists on Facebook. It's called advertising. That's what Facebook Pages are for, not Facebook profiles.

Earlier this year, Facebook started pushing "Featured" ads in the News Feed. Here is the official description of Featured Stories from the Facebook Help Center:

Businesses can pay to feature a post so there's a better chance you'll notice it.

A quick example of how it works

  1. Say you like your gym's Facebook Page.
  2. Some friends see the story in their news feeds, others may miss it.
  3. The owner of the gym can pay to feature the story so your friends are more likely to see it.

Who can see featured stories You decide who can see what you share on Facebook. When a story is featured, it's shown to the same people you originally shared it with.

Featured stories you may see

  • When a Page you like posts something new
  • When a friend likes something (such as a Facebook Page or individual Page post)
  • When a friend checks in somewhere, plays a game or uses an app

In other words, if you want to avoid these ads, you can go ahead and Unlike the Facebook Pages from which you don't want to see ads. If Highlight gets the green light, you'll also have to start Unfriending the Facebook friends who start using it.

There are definitely cases where it makes sense to promote a Facebook post. Let's say you're giving away something of value, and you want all your Facebook friends to get an equal chance to see it. Let's say you are going away on vacation (or moving away for good) and want to send out a message for everyone to come see you before you leave. Let's say you're in need of an organ donation and want to get your plea for help out to as many people as possible.

That's not why Facebook is testing this feature though. I understand Menlo Park needs to look for new revenue streams, especially given that it is going public soon. The company would probably make quite a bit of money from such a feature, but that's because it would be abused.

It's not just that your rich Facebook friends will suddenly be all over your News Feed. This feature would bring in a new type of spammer: the one that not only friends as many people as possible, but who also spams every single one of them. The fee to highlight a post is nothing compared to how much Facebook spammers get paid.

Once you offer a price on something, you are dividing the population in two: those who are willing to pay for it, and those who are not. If Facebook really wants to offer this feature, it should do so for free. There are many other ways it can limit its use, such as capping the number of posts you can Highlight per month.

I have no problem with post promotion. I have a problem with paid post promotion. If this goes through, it will ruin Facebook.

See also:

Topics: Social Enterprise

About

Emil is a freelance journalist writing for CNET and ZDNet. Over the years, he has covered the tech industry for multiple publications, including Ars Technica, Neowin, and TechSpot.

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