Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sponsored Posts

As many of you may already be aware, Facebook is now testing a new option in the United States called “sponsored posts.” For a fee of $7, you can ensure that your post rides atop your friends’ news feed for an extended period of time and gets noticed by more people. The feature is already available in twenty countries and Facebook hopes that it will take off in America and help bolster the company’s revenue stream.

They believe that the feature will be utilized for birth announcements, yard sales, or even death notices, since many people already pay for this service in their local newspapers it seemed like a logical extension of that model. Of course, there are no real parameters as to what the feature can be used for, which led me to an interesting question: What could go wrong with this?

Let’s say that you just emerged from a vicious breakup with your high school girlfriend and wish to publicly slander her reputation. Sure you can simply post a status update and hope that enough people haven’t hidden you from their news feeds, but that’s not good enough for you. You want results.  So you login to your account, drop $7, and suddenly half the school sees “Suzie is an illiterate skank who is carrying a member of the chess team’s baby.”

Now I am not condoning this as an admirable use of Facebook (or $7) but scorned teenagers are rarely accused of exhibiting too much integrity on the Internet. I also wonder if such a feature could open Facebook up to cyber-bullying lawsuits since someone with nefarious intent and disposable income could easily make sure their taunts have a wider audience.

The logical next step is purchasing fabricated “Likes” for your post. This would create a facade of favoritism amongst your intended audience without actually needing anyone to agree with you.  Before long, you might be able to buy Twitter followers or drop a few bucks for some non-existent acquaintances to comment on how fetching you look in your profile photo.

At the very least, it will be an interesting method of identifying which of your friends are the most narcissistic. Sure we would all like to believe the only life-changing events would make the cut but before you know it every political opinion and semi-clever meme will be sitting astride your feed until the perpetrator’s checking account is overdrawn.

Perhaps they should entertain the notion of a reverse model, one that actually charges the user a fee if their post is extraordinarily asinine or includes the term “haters.” Their friends could anonymously vote and once the tally reaches a pre-determined threshold the owner of the Facebook account would be billed. This model of intellectual community policing would most certainly reduce instances of Rickrolling and the fines would double if you are found guilty of attempting to have a one-on-one conversation by replying to a group message.         

Facebook has an uphill battle by trying to monetize the world’s greatest advertising database without alienating the people from which that data originates. Personally, I would suggest a tariff on unsolicited game invitations or incorrectly attributed quotes but I doubt that idea would gain any real traction at the home office. Maybe this is truly the beginning of the end for Facebook or maybe this is simply another change we will all begrudgingly accept as our new reality, like Timeline or a world with a Hulk Hogan sex tape. Either way I doubt anyone is reading this since it will be promoted through an un-sponsored post as my $7 went to Wendy’s before the bacon shortage wreaks havoc there.

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