Facebook Now Allows Friends To Promote Posts, But Privacy Concerns Arise

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By Ian Kar | February 16, 2013 8:27 AM EST

On average, Facebook posts are seen by approximately 16 percent of your friends; with Facebook’s newest feature, however, more of your friends may start seeing your best moments on the social network more often, because users can now pay to promote their friend’s posts.

Facebook hopes that with this new service, quality content supported by you and your friends will  be featured at the top of your News Feed. Some users have already received the new feature, but the gradual rollout will continue with Facebook users with fewer than 5,000 total friends and subscribers. 

Facebook’s new service seems to be a paid version of Reddit, a free website where users vote user submissions “up” or “down” based on whether they liked it or not. The problem is with free – and immensely popular – alternatives like Reddit, many users may not want to pay to promote their friends’ posts.

Facebook initially began testing the concept of promoting your own posts last May, and officially rolled out the feature to the public in October. Promoted Posts usually cost about $7 or so – the price varies by your location and how many people the post can potentially reach – but expanding this feature to allow users to promote others' posts will help those users reach a wider audience, and likely also help Facebook’s bottom line as well.

Facebook has dealt with many privacy issues in its nine years on the Web, but unlike most of the past issues that deal with broader concerns like “data mining,” the new promoted posts service could have a greater impact on individuals, like its increased potential for cyberbullying.

One problem is your friend doesn’t need your explicit permission to promote your posts. So, for instance, if one of my friends from college decides to promote an old embarrassing photo of me, I won’t be able to prevent the picture from getting to the top of the News Feed for a large percentage of my friends.

For some, this public shaming is considered a form of cyberbullying. Facebook has been very proactive in the past, partnering with anti-bullying organizations  after Amanda Todd’s suicide reignited the criticisms that cyber-bullying happened more on Facebook than other social networks. However, promoted posts could be another way cyber-bullies pick on their victims: By paying to promote embarrassing or personal content to show up at the top of the News Feed, Facebook could be encouraging users to embarrass one another for just a few measly bucks.

We’ve reached out to Facebook to talk about any safeguards that will be put in place to prevent cyber bullying, but they didn’t get back to us by the time this article went up.

In addition, there’s no way to determine who promoted the post, so, as TechCrunch notes, a friend promoting an article written by me could be perceived as a shameless plug by me in an effort get more of my friends to check out my article (which is totally true by the way).

However, Facebook notes there are a lot of benefits to the service. A Facebook spokesperson released a statement to AllFacebook on Friday, describing the feature:

“If your friend is running a marathon for charity and has posted that information publicly, you can help that friend by promoting their post to all of your friends,” the post said. “Or if your friend is renting their apartment out and she tells her friends on Facebook, you can share the post with the people you and your friend have in common so that it shows up higher in news feed and more people notice it.”

As you can see, Facebook’s new feature has a number of potentially beneficial uses like fundraising for a friends’ charity or publicizing events to increase attendance, and can even make somewhat tedious tasks like finding an apartment be a little less difficult.

Facebook will want to monitor this new feature to see how it’s used. It has the potential to be really lucrative and turn Facebook into a network more like Reddit, where popular posts dominate the front page on a merit basis, but it could be used maliciously to embarrass or play pranks on friends – only time will tell. Facebook is planning on emphasizing its mobile platform in 2013, and it will be interesting to see if the Promoted Posts feature will be included in its mobile plans. In the company’s most recent earnings report, Facebook said mobile ad revenue accounts for 23 percent of its total ad revenue.

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