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Monday, 4 June 2012

Facebook social ads - what's the problem, and why do you "like" things?

[Short link to this article if you need it:  http://goo.gl/rJYd6 or retweet me]

Recently (actually in the last 24 hours it seems) quite a few people have suddenly started spotting Facebook's "Social Ad" feature and are recommending people turn it off. If you haven't seen it, facebook's adverts at the right of the screen can show, alongside the advert, which of your friends have "liked" a particular product. The issue is that it's seen as an endorsement, but let's take a rational step back for a second and look at why do people "like" facebook pages in the first place? I think it's down to one of these reasons:
  1. To follow what the page/brand has to say
  2. To share a witty phrase or saying (seems to be dieing out now) with their friends
  3. To express approval of something/someone and tell their friends about it.
In cases 2 and 3 the purpose is very much "to tell others" and it appears on your friends' stream when you do the "like", so that should be a non-issue - why would you be worried about having that same information placed next to an ad when  your reason for liking it was to tell your friends anyway? Only in the first case could it be a potential problem. Maybe you chose to follow them to find out what a competitor is doing with social media, which would certainly not be an endorsement. But in that case maybe following them so openly in that way is a bad idea anyway.  My view is that we all use facebook for free, and so there shouldn't be a problem allowing facebook to display adverts to us (I've spoke of my disapproval of AdBlock plugins in the past), so is giving more publicity on what you've chosen to "Like" (which can be found on your profile anyway) really such a bad thing? After all, Facebook has had "recommended pages" based on your friend's likes for some time now, and I've almost never seen objections to that.


It's just that now it's in a section explicitly marked as "sponsored" rather than recommended, and yet that seems to be causing a problem for people. And it's because companies are paying for particular ones to get higher priority. And why shouldn't they do that? People have given facebook those details, so why wouldn't they use it instead of making a "Like" seem like a one-off thing. If you disapprove of facebook being a business you should have taken your data off the site years ago ... and certainly after their recent NASDAQ IPO.

Anyway, if that hasn't convinced you the options controlling social ads are here (for now, until they next move it!):

    Account -> Account Settings -> Facebook Adverts -> Edit Social Advert Settings

The only real counterargument is in exactly how the sponsored stories are displayed - slightly differently from the above image - with someone's name above it in some cases, almost implying they wrote the text along with the advert. I'd like to see facebook adjust that later since I accept it's a bit naughty, but realistically I'd expect most people would understand that these are just coming from people's "likes" and if you're going to "like" something questionable then it's you're own silly fault for doing that on facebook ...

So my feelings in summary:: There are far worse things that facebook have done in this area. Nothing about social ads breaks the privacy options you have (from what I've seen anyway, correct me if I'm wrong) and it's just prioritising the old "recommended pages" thing based on who is choosing to pay facebook (since you, as a user, aren't paying for it - someone has to) Take it or leave it. This is how the internet stays free, get over it.