I LOVE Facebook! I spend a lot of time there in between doing my work, which involves sitting at my desk waiting for phone calls from clients, typing medical reports and writing paid articles. FB gives me the opportunity to catch up on news and current events happening in the world at large, and with my friends both local and across the globe. I cherish those friendships. FB has allowed me to stay connected to friends I rarely see, to reconnect with those from my childhood and college days, AND to make new friends from all over the world. I love you guys dearly.
Beyond the personal connection, though, what I really appreciate about FB is the free exchange of ideas and information between us. I have friends from all ends of the political spectrum, anarcho-socialists to Tea Partiers to apathetic, with religious views ranging from Liberal Christian, fundie, Wiccan, pagan, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, atheist and everything in between. I enjoy the rich diversity of ideas shared by everyone, even when we disagree. The FB News Feed allows us to keep up with the philosophical pulse of society. It is remarkable and wonderful that FB provides a FREE forum where everyone, regardless of their socioeconomic status, can discuss their ideas and promote their cause as equals. With the new “promote a post for $” feature, that could change.
Some of my friends have stated that they don’t think it will make any difference in terms of the free exchange of ideas. Others have said that since we live in a capitalist/ “free market” society (which is not technically true, as Chomsky has pointed out, but that is a whole ‘nother topic for another time) – FB has a right to charge whatever fees they want, and how dare I question it?!
Allow me to clarify: I have never disputed that FB has a RIGHT to do this, nor have I said that FB ought to be prevented from doing it. Obviously, FB has a “right” to charge whatever fees they jolly well want. I am merely suggesting that it is a BAD IDEA in terms of the impact on free speech.
I would also like to state that I do not oppose the use of such fees on the BUSINESS end of FB. As a small business owner, I pay for advertising on various sites, and the advertising expense is figured into the price of the product or service that I provide. I understand that this is how “capitalism” works. I personally thought the paid promotion feature was fine from a business standpoint, but upon doing some research, I discovered that there is quite a bit of disappointment on the part of business owners re: the (surprisingly!) negative impact it has had on the promotion of their business on FB. However, this is a separate issue and I will leave it to them, as I do not advertise on FB. *
Where I disagree with the paid promotion feature is in regard to the Personal FB pages, where over 90% of the posts are NOT about selling things (a house, a book, a service); rather, they are editorial comments promoting one IDEA or another. This is NOT about “capitalism” which, by definition, is the production of wealth via the exchange of goods and services. Nobody is making money by endorsing their political candidate, informing their friends about human rights violations, expressing their grievance over policy matters, describing their utopian hopes and dreams for a better future, or posting Bible verses, quotes from Rumi, jokes, photos of their children, their motorcycle, or their cat. But, my friends argue, big deal – what difference will it make?!
Up until this time everyone's Personal editorial posts started out on equal footing, rich, poor, popular, unpopular, sane or crazy, important or trivial, all posts had the same random placement in the News Feed, subject only to the "likes" and “shares” or lack thereof. Now that posts can be "promoted" monetarily, it is possible for the wealthy to make sure their posts stay on top, which necessarily means everybody else goes to the bottom. And this is why I have a problem with it: I don’t believe rich people’s opinions are more valuable than poor people’s opinions. Apparently this belief makes me a radical, a communist. “Get with the program, James. In a capitalist society everything is for sale. Everything!”
I had a friend on FB (do you guys remember Michael Benge?), a brilliant artist who made fun of religion and was quite hilarious. He was also disabled, wheelchair-bound and poverty-stricken. He was extremely popular, but would not have been able to “promote” his posts financially. (He has since disappeared, perhaps because he pissed off too many people. But that is another story…)
One of my friends said, "If it’s a matter of principle, Jamie, just don't use the feature. It’s really quite simple." Well, no it isn’t. Whether or not I use the feature, other people will, and the result will be the same: $$ will dictate which posts are more likely to be seen in the News Feed. Depending on how many friends you have and how popular this “promotion” feature becomes, you will first see the paid promoted posts, and only when you get to the bottom of the list, you will see the unpaid ones. So the landscape of ideas on FB will increasingly change from a “democratic” basis – the popularity of posts being determined by “likes” and “shares” among friends – to an economic basis determined by who can pay the most to promote their ideological agenda.
When I was a little girl growing up in Hawaii, I had my first Letters to the Editor and Guest Editorials published in the Honolulu Star Bulletin. It was free to submit letters and articles, and they were published according to the discretion of the Editor (admittedly a relatively arbitrary process). How might that have been different, if publication of submissions depended on paying a fee?! Since age 13 I have been “published” many times; until this year I was never paid for my writing, but I’ve never had to pay to express my ideas. And the internet, especially on social forums like FB, has provided the opportunity for many, many people to express their point of view for free, like a huge unending editorial page where all voices are heard equally regardless of their age or socioeconomic status. I value that.
Today I get paid $10 for each article I write, so I suppose I could use the FB promote feature at a cost of $7, to promote myself, for a net profit of $3. But this is quite expensive compared to my current advertising, so I don't think I will.
Although I do not intend to use the “promote” feature in the future, I am going to do it this once as an experiment. As a result you, my friends, will be forced to see this annoying blog post in your News Feed whether you like it or not – not because of the quality of writing, the research that went into it, or the popularity of my blog (which on its own is dismally unpopular), but simply because I have a credit card that is not maxed out and I could pay $7. Enjoy.
* One such comment: “I personally find it atrocious. I work with small businesses, start-ups and nonprofits and Facebook has been a great marketing tool for them for a long time, giving well-intentioned professionals a significant competitive advantage against bigger businesses. But with so many people vying for attention on the social network these days (900 million or so), taking on this pay-to-post ideology severely tilts that level playing field. Essentially, the more money you have or are able to invest, the more attention you get, effectively limiting the exposure of others. I much prefer when it was all about actually engaging with your audience to gain exposure and ‘EdgeRank’.” [by FB user Billie Bryan]
Here are explanations of how the “promote” feature works and the responses of many other FB business users who have tried it: