Facebook’s communication surcharge

Read some of the reports around the web, and you’d be forgiving for thinking that Facebook has decided to charge people to send messages to celebrities. And, you probably think, that doesn’t bother you because you’re not the sort of person who does that.

But what they’re really doing is charging for communications to people who aren’t in your friend lists, and that has rather wider reaching implications; I responded to a blog post on the Which? website, and this is an edited version of my comment there.

I believe this is a dangerous precedent, and one that can make Facebook – and especially its ‘groups’ functionality, a lot less useful for a lot of people, especially small clubs, groups and organisations.

I run a club, which is a free organisation, with no membership fees. As well as a forum on our own website, we also have a closed group on Facebook where our members can also discuss and share information.

To ensure that it’s not full of spam, we approve each member who wants to join the group, and the details of the group indicate that people should message an admin with their membership details. However, the way the facebook groups interface works means that’s not terribly visible, and many people don’t. So, we’re often left needing to contact them.

One reason for that is that, by the nature of the group, many people may not be using the same name or email address on Facebook as they do on our private site. And, with a few thousand people in our club, there will be many whom we don’t know personally.

It is, of course, possible to simply add people as Friends – though Facebook has limits on how many times you can do that, especially if people don’t respond. Just as I might not recognise some of those wanting to join the group, because of a different name, they may not necessarily recognise me when I send a friend request. After sufficient people have turned down what may seem to them to be random friend requests, you end up blocked from sending any more, which isn’t helpful if you’re trying to verify membership of a group.

Another reason why we don’t want to become friends with everyone just to message them about group membership is the inevitable cluttering up of timelines, which then necessitates setting what stuff you want to hear from each person, and dealing with the almost inevitable further requests that you play some annoying game that they’ve decided to share with everyone. In short, it would create a lot more work for people trying to simply control who can and can’t join the group that we have on Facebook.

So, a consequence of this new policy, spun as if it’s only going to affect those who want to message celebrities, is that more and more, we as admins of a group, will be expected to pay to send someone a message to verify their membership of our club; I’ve had this message pop up a couple of times already, and my reaction has been to ignore it, and with it the Facebook member’s request to join the group.

I’m sure I won’t be the only person in this situation. Talking of it as a fee to message celebrities may well get headlines, but in fact like many such stupid ideas, the biggest effect will likely be felt by small organisations who will be penalised a bit at a time for wanting to reach out and contact people, whether over things like group memberships in my case, or because they want to contact someone who may be knowledgeable and able to help with a problem.

Yes, it is, so far, a small fee, but if I have to pay to message just one in six of our members, to verify they should be allowed access to our closed Facebook group, that would cost the same as several months of the hosting fees for our main web site.

This is, for many small groups, likely to be an annoyance, and drain on their funds or time, that goes one little step further towards making Facebook less useful as a way of keeping in touch with people, rather than more.

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