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Will Facebook Begin Charging Users? No!
And Stop Posting Unfounded Rumors!

| published October 7, 2015 |

By Thursday Review staff

Here at Thursday Review we would never necessarily defend Facebook, nor intentionally engage in trash talk about Mr. Zuckerberg’s great, game-changing invention. You know the familiar expression—Facebook, can’t live with it, can’t live without it. But…

Of the Top 10 Great Internet Hoaxes of all time (not quite as high up on the charts as that rumor that by reposting someone’s photo of an Apple laptop or an HP desktop, you can receive a complete system) has been the on-again-off-again viral chatter that Facebook plans, soon, to begin charging a user fee for all of its untold billion-plus users worldwide.

Typically, this rumor makes it way around the internet in the closing days and hours of a particular month (last year’s appearance was in late September, just as it was this year). And just as commonly, the chatter is accompanied by the looming possibility that tens of thousands of worried current users will see their personal information compromised in the ensuing account meltdown or platform change-over. Generally, the rumor includes the requirement to pay Facebook for a higher level of service in order to maintain your current privacy settings.

On the whole, a pretty scary set of possibilities, with a massive impact to millions, if not a billion, social media users.

There's only one problem: the whole thing is a hoax, plain and simple.

Not only is this baseless rumor kind of silly, but exploiting it and encouraging it can sometimes lead to catastrophe for folks who participate in spreading this balderdash, because even more unscrupulous than those who foist the Facebook pricing rumor are those who form “groups” to "resist," usually advertised in the form of a clickable FB post—which can sometimes lead thousands to fall victim to spamming, or worse, computer hackers.

The latest incarnation of this pesky urban myth is this: Facebook will begin charging users immediately to keep personal information and personal materials private—“personal” presumably meaning your photos, your cache of likes and dislikes, your list of friends and people or groups you follow, even your birthdate, place of birth, and anything else you opted to populate into your Facebook account.

Only by paying some form of monthly fee can you secure that data—otherwise, Big Bad Facebook will do awful things with it, like use it to calibrate your likes and dislikes so that the company can target its advertising especially for you. Worse, everyone can just click on your page and have a look, any time.

Aaack! The horror!

Of course, as most people know, Facebook already does those things with your information, to great effect. The moment you click “like” to Samuel Adams Beer, or “like” to Kings of Leon, or “like” to “Movies starring Matt Damon,” Facebook begins to build its micro portfolio on you. Also, anyone you count as a friend can already have a look at your information anyway, unless you have chosen to keep it shielded from public view. And that includes your birthdate, photos—recent and old—your current city, your city of birth, and a dozen other bits and pieces of your life.

Which raises that classic internet question: why place your personal data on a popular social media site if you do not wish for people to actually see it, even accidentally? But that’s for another article.

At issue is the chain letter heralding Facebook’s imminent scheme to convert everyone to a pay-to-enter plan, a rumor which makes its way around the world every year or so. The origins of this whopper date back to its first big go-round in 2009, and it is just as false now as it was six years ago. Facebook, as you may have heard, makes umpteen billions of dollars every year from its multitude of advertisers, large and small. The company makes so much money—mountains of it—that charging individual users would make no sense.

A friend wrote to us late yesterday and asked “but can’t Facebook make ever MORE money once they start charging for access, or charging to keep you information private?” The answer is yes…for about ten minutes. As soon as Facebook starts charging for access, the move will spawn literally thousands, if not millions, of cancellations. Those cancellations will instantly begin to nudge advertisers away from Facebook. Ad dollars are too valuable to be spent on any platform where viewers or readers are walking away.

The genius of Facebook’s business model is that it is provided free of charge to anyone, anywhere. Not only that, but Facebook users willingly participate in FB’s own marketing analysis and advertising metrics by choosing to like or dislike things, by opting to follow the things they like—such as “Led Zeppelin’s debut album” or “J.K. Rowling” or “Marco Rubio for President”—and by populating pages with photos, birthdates, educational backgrounds, employers, even places visited.

If Facebook were to begin losing its user-base, even by a small percentage, it would undercut its ability to tell advertisers that it knows how to reach that special niche of “Led Zeppelin music listeners who read Harry Potter books and plan to vote for Marco Rubio in their hometown of Charleston, South Carolina.” If Facebook were to begin charging, say, $4.99 per month, it would undercut its goal of consolidating as many social media users as possible in it galaxy of hyper-accurate data. If Facebook were to lose, say, 10% of its users in some form of stampede away from its ubiquitous platform, it would undercut its ability to tell advertisers that it reaches…well…everyone on the planet with a computer, a laptop, or some form of smartphone or handheld device.

In other words, charging users a monthly fee would undercut Facebook’s profits, not enhance them. Even charging them to “protect” their data—which was shared voluntarily, by the way—would drive away enough users to undercut Facebook’s successful formula (what good is your data to Facebook if you have cancelled the account and are no longer using the service?) Facebook’s strength lies in its billions of users who have free access.

In that sense, Facebook has no reason to repeat the great mistakes of companies like Blockbuster or J.C. Penney, each of whom had famous misadventures when they attempted to reinvent a perfectly successful business model.

For Facebook, the formula is all about economies of scale; it is not about deciding to suddenly, and arbitrarily, introduce the kind of fees which would result in losing customers at a steady but predictable rate.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Google is Now Alphabet; Thursday Review staff; Thursday Review; October 5, 2015.

Facebook Will Introduce Smartphone Payment App; Thursday Review; March 18, 2015.