Your Facebook News Feed may have even more promoted content in the future — and that content may be status updates from friends willing to part with cash to get their posts out there. Facebook may be testing (again) a way to let people with private accounts pay to promote their tweets. Der Spiegel’s Paris bureau chief Mathieu von Rohr tweeted a screenshot from his private Facebook account showing an option to pay to promote the post to either fans of his page or to people chosen through targeting.
Facebook just invited me to buy my way into other people’s newsfeeds. Scary. pic.twitter.com/cCj8VUJuhG
— Mathieu von Rohr (@mathieuvonrohr) September 23, 2013
Facebook did not respond to request for comment.
What does this mean for Facebook? This isn’t the first time the company has experimented with allowing users to pay to promote their posts. It started playing around with something called “Highlight” in New Zealand in 2012, and expanded the test to U.S. markets for a time. News of testing faded after that, but this latest evidence that tests are still ongoing implies a continued effort to make this feature stick.
And that’s not a good thing. The company is already taken strides to remodel both the News Feed and the larger Facebook experience to more closely resemble Twitter’s real time flow of information from both friends and public figures, so if the company is testing a way to let a wider swath of users pay to promote their tweets, it speaks to the overall goal to incite users to treat their status updates like tweets and try to spread them to a wider audience.
But there are several problems with this potential plan. Facebook’s Newsfeed is broken, and does not give users a comprehensive stream of updates like Twitter does. Until the website finds a way to fix the way it shows updates, the News Feed will always lack the cachet the Twitter feed has. The other problem is even harder to fix: Facebook is trying its darnedest to change the way people use the website so that users treat it like both Twitter and Facebook, but it’s an impossible task. People use the services for different purposes; this is why hashtags are an essential discovery tool on Twitter and useless signifiers of nothing on Facebook. Although company pages use Facebook’s promoted posts to spread their message, expanding this option to regular users doesn’t seem like it would appeal to anyone using the site as most people use the site, to update friends and family on their lives.
The feature may only appeal to a certain subset of monied private users who really, really want everyone to see their baby’s first Christmas outfit or their scuba trip to Cocos Island. But if it does end up becoming a popular feature, it will make Facebook a far more annoying service. People with the money to get their posts to the top of your feed will dominate what you see. Facebook may render its News Feed even more ineffectual by rigging it even more so that promoted posts dominate the feed.