Facebook's promoted posts let users pay to be seen

A new Facebook feature will let U.S. users pay for some extra visibility in friends’ newsfeeds.

Facebook’s new “promoted posts” feature, which is currently in testing for U.S. users (it debuted in New Zealand in May and gradually rolled out to 20 other countries this year), lets users self-promote Facebook posts for a small fee. According to TechCrunch, each post costs $7 to promote and users can track how many regular and paid views a promoted post has received.

“Sometimes a particular friend might not notice your post, especially if a lot of their friends have been posting recently and your story isn’t near the top of their feed,” Facebook’s Abhishek Doshi wrote in a press release Monday. Promoted posts get more prominent billing in other users' news feeds, so they're more likely to be noticed.

There are all kinds of issues with this approach. For one thing, it means that whoever spends the most money gets to have the loudest voice. It also raises the possibility--albeit remote--of ordinary users turning into covert shills. (Facebook does, at least, prohibit users with more than 5,000 subscribers or friends from promoting their posts.)

But what bothers me most about this idea is that it’s just plain lazy. The entire reason Facebook stopped arranging status updates chronologically and turned to algorithms was to make sure important news wasn’t lost. Instead of sending old news to the bottom of the pile, Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm determines what content gets top billing based on likes, comments, and other signals.

With promoted posts, Facebook is basically admitting it lacks confidence in its own algorithms. Instead of coming up with better automation, Facebook is turning the weakness of its existing system into a source of revenue. There’s nothing wrong with Facebook trying to make more money – especially now that it's a public company– but it can do better than this.

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