News not all good in Facebook ad boom

Editorial | Nov 1, 2017
More advertisements are visible on Facebook than ever before. Long gone are the days of the nice ad-free experience that founder Mark Zuckerberg had boasted about.

But hearts do change these days, right?

The change at Facebook into a platform full of adverts is understandable, for, if not because of them, the US tech giant's stock price wouldn't have skyrocketed so breathtakingly.

Last week, Facebook tested a new feature in six countries - Slovakia, Sri Lanka, Serbia, Bolivia, Guatemala and Cambodia - places that many people, sometime even locals, couldn't readily tell where they are without the help of a map.

Within days, users were angry, so I'm glad Hong Kong wasn't given the "privilege" of being among the guinea pigs for the updates.

Up to now, we've been able to follow news feeds from liked pages on the default Newsfeed. But this will change if Facebook decides to extend the feature that has stunned many users in the six countries to the rest of the world.

What's being done is that as part of the update, the new Explore Feed is created in addition to the standard Newsfeed. As a result, the standard Newsfeed is reserved only for friends' posts and sponsored ads. Meanwhile, non-sponsored pages are bundled into the Explore Feed corner, although users have been following them.

What this means is that users have to "explore" the new corner for news feed they're expecting. Owners of those pages - like media organizations and small companies - are disconnected from their followers unless they pay a fee to stay connected to their target clientele.

A massive drop in traffic has been reported since the trial began. In Slovakia, local media reported a decline of more than 75 percent. The experiences in Cambodia and Guatemala have been similar.

Obviously, the guinea pigs were carefully chosen - imagine the uproar if the change had been tested in countries like the United States or Western Europe.

So, the update is hardly of good taste. However, the business module is overwhelming, and it's only a matter of time before Zuckerberg implements the changeover in full, because the commercial value therein represents a new gold mine for him.

The business plan could be affected if the American Congress makes good on its threat to tighten regulations on social media ads, in the wake of the ongoing investigation into Russia's interference in last year's US presidential election.

For it's now revealed that a Russian research agency had created 120 Facebook pages and paid US$100,000 (HK$780,000) to produce 80,000 posts of fake news, inciting remarks and other content directly to 29 million Americans, which ended them reaching 126 million Americans - about half the number of the country's voters.

The political development could complicate Facebook's marketing plan. No wonder it's more than willing to require sponsors to reveal their identities to pre-empt any Congressional move.

But will sponsors disclose their true identities if they want to hide?

You tell me.

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