When Facebook was launched, it was intended to be a social platform where people could express themselves, make new friends, reconnect with people from their pasts, join groups of people with similar interests, and control the information that they share with others. The powers that be at Facebook also made the platform friendly for people who wanted to interact with one another via chat, or games. Advertising, at least initially, played a minor role. However, this changed throughout the years. Even worse, it is continuing to change, and that change is coming faster and faster. It now seems as if it is an inevitability that Facebook will turn into a full advertising platform.
Why Facebook Users Should be Concerned About Advertising
Initially, advertising on Facebook was not intrusive. There were simply a few ads on the left side of the news feed. However, even back then Facebook was collecting data. Every connection, every like, every new piece of information added to your profile, the groups you join, and more gave Facebook the ability to determine which advertisements would be best for you. Today, they are collecting, even more, information. Think about the recent release of new reaction buttons. Now, instead of simply liking or scrolling by a post, you can express six distinct reactions using Facebook’s newly introduced emojis. The concern about using these to collect data for advertising purposes is large enough that the Belgian police have warned their citizens against using Facebook reactions.
In addition to data collection, there is also the issue of Facebook re-targeting. This is where Facebook partners with businesses to track your browsing habits in order to target you with a second layer of advertising. If you have ever paid a visit to an eCommerce website to research a particular product or service, and then later seen advertisements for that same product or service on your news-feed, that is re-targeting. Essentially, the eCommerce website has fed Facebook the information about your shopping habits, and the fact that you did not make a purchase. In return for this information and payment, Facebook pushes an ad into your news-feed that will hopefully get you primed to make that purchase.
In 2014, Facebook released its Audience Network Platform. This allows advertisers to purchase in-app ad space from any developer using the targeting data that Facebook collects and now provides to third parties. This means that not only does Facebook impact the advertisements you see in your news feed, it also impacts the advertisements you see when you are using apps. Worse, your personal information is being disseminated even more.
Most recently, Facebook is now allowing advertisers to use video ads on its Audience Network platform. These video ads will play in the stream. This means that there is no option to click play or not. The video advertisements will simply play either during, before or after videos that play within the apps that you use. These video ads will also be inserted into your newsfeed via brand’s that participate in Facebook Instant Articles. In other words, companies that were once feeding you news content can now feed you video ads as well.
Facebook users are also simply seeing more advertisements in their newsfeeds. Some of these are labeled as sponsored posts. This at least carries a bit of a warning label that a post is essentially a paid advertisement. Then, there are also suggested posts, suggested groups, and the ever expanding advertising on the right side of your newsfeed. If you are concerned that advertisements are encroaching on your Facebook experience, you should be. Just in terms of physical space on your screen, advertisements are taking over. Then there is the matter of constant exposure to advertising.
For some people, the initial reaction to all of this might be ‘so what?’ After all, what does it matter if some ads show up on your screen, or if some aggregated information is used to help advertisers? There is nothing inherently wrong with web marketing, but there are issues with Facebook’s methods. For one thing, there is the lack of disclosure. Think about it. Has there ever been, at any point a message sent to you from Facebook indicating that they were working with advertisers, or that the information you were providing would be used for advertising purposes? Yet, here we are. If Facebook has not been forthcoming in the past, what will motivate them to be forthcoming in the future?
Then, there is the issue of children. Remember that Facebook is open to people ages 13 and older. This means that thirteen to seventeen-year-olds are also subject to having their personal information collected and sent to advertisers. Think about that. Teenagers, who in many households are the most likely to have their profiles completed with all of their likes and dislikes, who play games via apps on Facebook, who share like and react to content, and who don’t have the experience and judgment of an adult, are being targeted with these advertising efforts. That is something that should be alarming to everybody.
Will Facebook Change in The Future
Right now, it seems unlikely that Facebook will deviate from the trajectory it is on. In fact, if anything, it is more likely that it will accelerate. After all, Facebook is making more and more money from the information that it collects and uses to woo advertisers. As long as it is able to do that without receiving any significant pushback from users, why wouldn’t it stay on its current path. It does not appear as if it will be too long before Facebook truly becomes a full advertising platform. As a result, a place that was once meant for communicating and expressing ourselves will simply be a place where people go to unwittingly consume ads in exchange for brief moments of entertainment and connection. The only way to get Facebook to put the brakes on this will be through raising awareness, and reducing apathy. When people stop willingly or unthinkingly feeding Facebook the information it uses to exploit them, things might change.