New Facebook Feature Ignites Controversy

Facebook is set to be the biggest technology IPO in history. On Friday alone, investors poured over $16 billion into the social media powerhouse. In response to the IPO launch, Facebook has started shifting its focus to the wants and needs of investors, leaving many wondering if the company has lost sight of the people it claims matter most: the users. This shift has become more apparent than ever with the introduction of the “Highlight” tool.

In essence, “Highlight” would allow users to boost the visibility of their posts. That is, if they’re willing to pay for it. The new tool would charge anywhere from 40 cents to $2.00 for a user to showcase individual updates. Facebook would showcase those updates by propelling them to the top of their friends’ news feeds. Though Facebook’s homepage touts the tagline, “It’s free and always will be,” this new tool threatens to discredit the mantra and turn-off new and old users alike.

In light of Facebook’s IPO premiere, perhaps the introduction of this cost feature should come as no surprise. Facebook wants to prove to wary investors that they still have money-making clout, and “Highlight” has the potential to create a huge revenue stream. The $2.00 price tag might be pocket change for a user, but multiply that by the 900 million people using Facebook and you have a revenue gold mine for investors.

The new revenue stream would please investors, as well as the users paying to reap the benefits of feeling popular, so what’s the controversy? The news feed was originally designed to display posts that have generated attention organically through “Likes” and comments. Remember when you posted a new album of your exotic vacation to Fiji and the only feedback you got was a comment from your aunt letting you know you missed the family barbeque? Well, you may have thought your vacation album warranted some attention, but your friends probably thought the 250-picture album of landscape and dinner shots was a bit excessive. With “Highlight”, a news feed could become cluttered with spam and mediocre posts that people are uninterested in viewing (as if that didn’t happen enough already).

In addition to distorting the news feed, “Highlight” threatens to alienate users who aren’t willing or cannot afford to invest in highlighting their posts. The introduction of the tool could also highlight the flaws in Facebook’s ability to function as a platform for communication. Since the testing of “Highlight” began, it’s become common knowledge that on average only 12 percent of your Facebook friends see what you post. Flaws like this could drive users to other social media sites like Twitter where every post is given an equal chance to be seen.

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Facebook is still at the forefront of social media, but it may have a hard time staying there. We all saw what happened with MySpace.

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