Tag Archives: Facebook

Facebook’s Responsibilities As A Content Platform

bubblesIt is time for Facebook to look itself in the mirror and decide who it wants to be when it grows up.

In the wake of the 2016 US elections there are volumes of conversations taking place over our possible future, the ongoing tension and conflicts, and the root causes of the election.  The causes are numerous and not simple to categorize–your perception of the election’s results may make you view one cause as a positive or a negative, for example.  But the causes are out there and, if they did not have the impact they desired, then the results of the election compel those causes to re-examine their purpose and impact.  Facebook is one of them.

The New York Times ran an excellent article about Facebook’s possible impact and how different groups within the organization are thinking about the issue.  If you’re unable to read that article because you don’t have a subscription to the New York Times, I’d suggest you subscribe.  The article also points out the conflicting viewpoints even within Facebook, as Mark Zuckerberg has publicly posted that he believes Facebook’s involvement is minimal.  Unfortunately, I believe Mr Zuckerberg’s comments have missed the forest for the fake tree.

Mr Zuckerberg’s post talks about the potential impact of fake stories that circulated on Facebook.  He believes those stories had no impact, but that also once you go down the road of trying to mark stories as true or fake you get into dangerous territory.  Even mainstream reports may omit details or sometimes get stories wrong.  That is entirely valid criticism and it is entirely hogwash.

Certainly you can draw the line at marking what is a real or fake story and you can argue about moving that line.  Right now, no such line exists.  That allows completely fabricated stories to gain widespread circulation perpetuating their untruths.  Once that bad information has taken hold it is almost impossible to eliminate their impact, as Facebook well knows with the constant resurgence of Facebook untruths (Facebook is going to start charging you, if you post something then you keep control of your content, they now own all of your photos, etc.).  Even if another true story circulates right after the original fake story you will still have a large number of people who think the fake story may have had a detail wrong but the overall theme is true.  And of course that has an impact.

Facebook and other social media sites have become widely popular for lowering the barriers of distributing content.  We can now connect with people and share information with simplicity and ease.  That has powerful positive effects but it also has some drawbacks.  The widespread dissemination of fake news is one drawback and that can be addressed by Facebook if it wanted to do so.

But there’s a bigger picture here, one that I fear Facebook is missing by only talking about fake news.  Because the true impact of Facebook and all of social media isn’t just about fake news but rather that these platforms designed to increase communications between people may be doing the opposite.  There is a wealth of articles and research about how the same technology that gives us access to so much content may also force us into a bubble of only content that we agree with.  The most recent iteration is how this may have impacted the election, such as this New York magazine article points out, but this is an older concept as this fantastic 2011 TED talk points out (carve out 9 minutes to watch it if you can).


This is where Facebook can best start looking in the mirror.  Because Facebook doesn’t just set up bubbles for its users, it is a bubble generating machine.

Facebook stays successful by making sure you keep coming back.  It wants to give you content you find compelling and enough new material so you visit the site many times a day.  It also can’t give you too much content or you’ll get frustrated and leave.  And it also can’t give you content that will make you never come back–whether because you found it offensive or distasteful or any number of reasons.

This is the entire reason for Facebook’s Edgerank algorithm and why you sometimes see articles complaining how Facebook users don’t see all their friends’ posts.  Facebook constantly tweaks and plays with this program to maximize your time on Facebook.  More time on Facebook means you keep coming back and you’ll see more ads that they can sell to fund the platform.  That makes sense from a platform and business perspective.

But as a content and media company, Facebook also needs to ask if maximizing user bubbles is truly in the best interests.  Compare this to a snack food company that discovers if they add more sugar then people like the snacks more, they consume it more, they buy more of it.  That makes sense from a business perspective and yet it may not be the best possible outcome.

Facebook and others need to look themselves in the mirror and decide who they want to be.  They can take the all business approach of doing what is the best for profits or they can decide there is a greater responsibility at play.  I don’t know how to burst those bubbles if Facebook chooses to do so.  I do know that Facebook has some of the most brilliant content engineers, data scientists, and platform designers on the planet.  If they want to address this problem, they can start coming up with solutions.  Because bursting those bubbles may be vital in helping to bring people together, to help us increase understanding of problems and come up with solutions.  Popping those bubbles may help heal the polarizing partisanship that has only grown over the past years.

Those bubbles may be nice to live in, but they may choke us in isolation.  It’s time to figure out whether they’re worth keeping.

Either way, Facebook needs to look at their role in defining public conversations and make a decision.  Sticking their head in the sand and pointing at the other causes is irresponsible.  No, Facebook isn’t entirely to blame.  It also is not blameless.  Where it goes from there is entirely within their control.


Leave a comment

Filed under Facebook, Social Content, Social Platforms, Social Tracking, Technology

7 Signs Of A Bogus Facebook Privacy Change Post (and why your status update has no impact on Facebook)

facebook_privacy_comic_brian_farringtonEvery September it emerges like a cloud of locusts but far more annoying.  The posts.

Facebook has changed its privacy policy and is going to start charging you tomorrow unless you post the following UCC provisions and use some really strong words to say you DO NOT ALLOW THIS!  It might help if you stomp your foot too.  And you have to copy and paste this, for no good reason other than its funny as hell that people believe this nonsense.

It’s a hoax.  A chain mail joke.  And every year it flies around because people don’t remember it from the year before.  I tried blogging about detecting these hoaxes almost three years ago and the same points hold true.  This year even Facebook got in on the action by publicly telling people it was fake.


But I decided to make it easier for people to detect these hoaxes with the following list of bogus nonsense that can help you find the next Facebook hoax.  Some of this is a bit of tough love if you’ve been one of the people spreading this rumor–but it’s time for you to put your thinking hat on.  Yes, even while using social media.

The next hoax may take a different form or say it’s for some other reason, so I’m giving you all the ammunition you need to find and kill hoax posts.

1. It asks you to copy and paste something into your status update.

Look, I know your status update is really important to you as a Facebook user.  It’s where we tell people about how much fun we’re having and the great deal we got on something and how we’re really, really tired.  But it isn’t a Magical Contract Box.  You don’t get to put text in it and have that conjure some mystical legal impact like changing your terms with Facebook (check reason number 6) or giving yourself some extra degree of privacy (check reason number 5 below) or avoiding some bogus charge (check reason number 4).  That’s not how Facebook works, that’s not how contracts work, that’s not how life works.

2. It cites some source of information without a link.

You are a sophisticated Facebook user once you’ve been using the platform for more than a day.  So you know how easy it is to link an article, a video, a picture, or many other forms of information.  If a status update starts off by citing some source of information like a Channel 13 or WXYZ or some newspaper you’ve never heard of and it doesn’t contain a link to that original information then I want you to use some critical thinking skills.  “Are they not linking this information because it’s common knowledge or because it doesn’t exist?” I want you to ask yourself.  And then I want you to realize that you have no idea who Channel 13 is and why should you trust them.  And then I want you to ignore the status update.

3. It pretends to be legal by mentioning the UCC or Statute of Rome or some such nonsense.

Look, I get that the legal system can be a bit mysterious because lawyers want to keep a reason for suffering through law school for three years.  So part of this is on us–you don’t know what the UCC is except now I’m going to tell you.  The UCC isn’t a law.  It’s a code that is recommended to states to make a law and have it be common across all states (the U stands for Uniform).  But it isn’t a law.  So any status update that cites the UCC like it’s a law?  Immediately bogus.  Also if you see something that vaguely sounds like a law, like the Statute of Rome, think to yourself “Do I live in Rome?”  If you do, I want you to get on your scooter and go drive around a bit.  If you don’t, I want you to ignore the status update.

4. It says Facebook is about to start charging you.

I’m not saying that Facebook will always be free–that’s up to Facebook.  They said they are always going to be free (see that post at the top) but they could change their mind.  But even if they did change their mind, let’s think about it for a second–if Facebook were going to start charging its 1 billion plus users do you think you would find out about it the day before it happens?  And do you think you would find out about it from a status update?  An unsourced status update with no link that likely comes from one of your friends who, let’s face it, don’t post any technology news ever?  Nope.  If Facebook were going to start charging everyone you can be sure every news outlet would cover it and Facebook would be getting ahead of the message by alerting every user the moment you logged onto Facebook.

5. It tries to use anything but the Privacy settings to, you know, impact your Privacy settings.

Facebook has an incredibly robust Privacy settings page.  It’s grown over the years, partially as a reaction to users asking for more Privacy settings.  But while you can access many settings when you post something (like who can see it, what information it includes, whether it has a location, etc.) and you have many more global Privacy settings available via that funky lock icon in the top right corner of every Facebook page ever, one of the few places where you can’t change your privacy settings is by posting text in your status update.  Because I know how important your status update is to you and your friends–but Facebook isn’t reading everything you post.  Nor are they setting their computers to constantly monitor your status update to see if you’ve signaled some new relationship between yourself and Facebook.  This is mostly because you’re being paranoid, but it’s also because…

6. You don’t get to modify your agreement with Facebook

Well, okay, that’s a bit harsh.  You do have one way of modifying it–you can delete your account.  Although even then the Facebook terms you accepted when you signed up have some applicability, namely as in what happens when you delete your account.  But those terms you accepted when you signed up?  Yeah, those were actually a contract and you don’t get to modify them without Facebook agreeing.  Just like if you pay your rent by sending a check to your landlord and write a note on it saying “I hereby change my monthly rent to $5” that’s not going to work.  The terms apply to you.  The fact that you chose to accept them without reading the document?  Guess who’s fault that is?  Hint: not Facebook’s.

7. It says you must copy and paste, not share.

It seems silly that I’m even listing this one but it irks me.  Besides the notion of having any status update with a legal impact, why would anyone think that copying and pasting is somehow more impactful than sharing?  Have you ever signed a contract, ever?  Of course you have–you’ve agreed to terms, you’ve signed up for cell phone plans, maybe you’ve bought a house or leased an apartment.  Were you handed a paper to sign or told to check a box?  Of course you were.  You were never  asked to write out a paragraph word for word so that it would apply to you.  That’s just silly.  Stop being silly.


There.  Seven ways to detect a hoax post about Facebook’s privacy policy or a lot of other topics.  We don’t need to do this again, do we?

Sigh.  Yeah.  See you next year.


Leave a comment

Filed under CopyFUD, Copyright, Facebook, Laws, Privacy, Social Content, Social Platforms

4 Ways That Copyright Is Just Trying To Do Its Job And Doesn’t Control You

“Did Comcast just copyright my diaper? Does that mean I just filled it with derivative works?”

Copyright law has its flaws but it doesn’t control your life.  This despite a blog post that’s been making the rounds on social media.  I’m not going to link it because I’m trying to combat the fear-mongering–one more verified kill and I earn my Hysteria Killer badge!–but you may see it out there getting some shares.  I make it a rule that once four of my friends shares one of these blatantly wrong articles I need to blog about it.  Fourth one was shared this morning, so here we go.

First off, if you ever see a blog post saying that something is controlling you, be skeptical.  Especially if it is something you knew existed but didn’t give it a second thought until this tantalizing headline appears across your feed.  “This is trying to control me?” your freedom loving mind will think, “I DO NOT WANT TO BE CONTROLLED!  YOU DON’T KNOW ME ANONYMOUS ISSUE I DID NOT CARE ABOUT FIVE MINUTES AGO!”

Our latest culprit?  Copyright law.  It’s trying to control you and run your life and make you watch Gilmore Girls reruns.  And only that last thing is good.

As a skeptic, the number one thing to look for is the source.  In this case the article is coming just from one book–it’s essentially a book report.  Single source articles trying to present a comprehensive look at an issue should set off a mild alarm.  Single source articles trying to just tell you about that source–that’s fine.  Like a movie review or an interview with someone.  But when it’s trying to tackle something as big as copyright law, you should expect more.  Like, I dunno, two sources.  Or more.

If you have the time to search for the single source’s credentials you are typically going to find they are very different from what the article suggests.  Like in this case where the article suggests that the book’s author is just an innocent copyright researcher who has some thoughts on the issue.  Instead, the author is a proud proponent of killing a part of copyright law and seeks out every opportunity to advance his cause.  He’s about as impartial a jury member as the prosecutor.

So what is copyright law being accused of this time?  Only these four horrible things.

1. Copyright is all about locks.

This is coming from the guy who hates these locks.  Despises them.  Thinks they are worse than the Star Wars prequels.  The truth is far less evil.  Copyright law does care about locks around content, but it isn’t all about them.  Not even the majority of copyright law is about these locks–directly or indirectly.  Copyright law is about authors and trying to figure out a way to reward them for their creative efforts.  Efforts which are easily stolen.  It’s a difficult challenge in today’s age of incredibly simple copying and as we face new ways of consuming and creating content.  Copyright law does need to change, but to say it’s all about the locks is like saying your car is all about the seat belt.

2. Copyright law is privacy law.

This one is bizarre since it’s talking about US law, a country with the least amount of privacy laws in the western (and a good chunk of the rest) world.  The US is extremely corporate-friendly when it comes to privacy, especially when compared to Europe which is very consumer friendly.  In the European Union they have a documented and acknowledged fundamental human right to privacy.  In the United States the same government agency that oversees privacy also regulates those tags on your mattress that can’t be removed under penalty of law.

Suggesting copyright law is privacy law is a strange statement.  Stranger still is the support for this argument–that when Viacom sued Google they wanted to be able to look at private videos to see if they were infringing.  Yes, Viacom made an outrageous argument in an outrageous lawsuit that went on for years and where Viacom lost almost every step of the way.  Eventually they settled for no money, which is as close to saying “Whoops, my bad!” as a giant media conglomerate is going to come these days. Taking one bad argument from a really bad lawsuit and turning it into a scare tactic is pretty cheap.

3. Copyright law weakens security.

The argument here is that you use computers a lot and computers like to patch themselves without telling you and that’s really insecure because you don’t know what they’re doing.  That’s an interesting theory except that but for a handful of people in the world NOBODY KNOWS EVERYTHING YOUR COMPUTER CAN DO.  Seriously, even computer engineers at Microsoft working on Windows will know their own piece but ask them about another section of the operating system and they’ll shrug, admit they don’t know, and blame them for some bug that impacts their world.  That’s how computers have operated for decades yet–if you want to know every moving piece of how the machine works then get yourself an abacus, stop driving your car, and pitch your smartphone into a lake.  Modern technology builds on the work of more people than you’ve ever known–if that new functionality somehow translates to less security then you just have a crazy definition of security.

4. Copyright law is surveillance and censorship law.

Oh holy hell.  Copyright is considered surveillance because…Snowden?  Seriously, that’s as cohesive an argument they can make.  They toss in Edward Snowden’s name and suddenly it’s about surveillance.  Hey, know what?  Edward Snowden loves frozen yogurt.  Loves it.  So frozen yogurt must be about surveillance too.  Delicious, delicious surveillance.

The censorship take is about organizations abusing the process to issue take down threats.  This is a somewhat fair criticism.  The law does provide for organizations to request content to be removed from web sites and the web sites must comply in order to be shielded from really ugly lawsuits.  Some organizations may abuse this process to claim copyright for material that has no copyright protection, they just don’t like it.  Definitely abuse.  Clearly abuse.  Also not allowed under the law, but it may take a company some work to weed out those requests from the legitimate ones.  Copyright law is not about censorship just because someone is abusing it and for a while can get away with it.  Quite the opposite, in fact.

I am not saying copyright law is perfect.  It does need to change for new technologies, a new collaborative economy and creative environment that technology has created, and better limits between the public interest and corporate ownership.  But just as copyright law is not perfect neither is any other law.  It’s something that impacts us every day whether we realize it or not, from reading articles online to sharing links on Facebook to creating funny memes to watching shows on Netflix.  We live in an incredibly rich world of content and copyright is important.

But it doesn’t control your life and anyone who tells you otherwise is just trying to sell you something.

Leave a comment

Filed under CopyFUD, Copyright, Laws, Privacy

Iceholes: How The ALSA May Win The Battle But Lose The War

You know what we do to bad ice on a pedestal?

The biggest surprise hit of the summer is not Guardians of the Galaxy but rather the megaviral smash Ice Bucket Challenge benefiting the ALS Association. Rather than be thankful for this windfall the ALSA has recently decided that they should own this challenge and prevent any other cause or organization from using it. What do you think they are, a charity?

Oh yeah, they are.  Then maybe they should start acting like it and not a bunch of selfish iceholes.

First, some background. The ALSA did not create the ice bucket challenge. The gimmick has been around for a long time. In fact, when this latest round started over the summer it began as a challenge to dump a bucket of ice water on your head or donate $100 to a charity of your choice.  It was only when the challenge first passed to professional golfer Chris Kennedy that the donation was flagged for the ALSA and the individuals he tagged kept the charity when they made their videos.  Later, there was a significant wave of ice bucket activity in Boston due to native ALS sufferer Pete Frates and concerted actions by the Red Sox organization.  Facebook’s data team’s analysis shows that Boston does appear to be the epicenter of the challenge going truly viral.

Nobody is exactly sure why the challenge has reached its current level of popularity, but that’s true for most viral hits in the social media age.  Sure, the videos are funny. And having one person tag several others to participate makes for an exponential reach. And having the challenge somehow associated with charity so we all think we can have fun while helping out a worthy cause makes it seem nice too. There are even a scattering of super serious videos in the mix depicting a bit of what the disease means to its victims and their families. We can identify all the elements but we still don’t know what made this challenge go viral like it did.  Heck, even I did one.  Although I’m not linking it after the reasons behind this post.

That doesn’t really matter though. It doesn’t matter that we can’t explain why it went viral; it went viral. It doesn’t matter that perhaps the amount of money we give to charities is out of proportion to the impact of the disease as IFLScience linked in a Vox article infographic; there is no doubt this is a horrific disease and increased attention to it is a good thing. It doesn’t matter that ALSA only spends a small percentage of its budget on research; it performs several other valuable services and all charities have to spend a lot of money to ultimately make more money in the end.

Here’s what does matter: the ALSA was given the greatest gift of their life in terms of this ice bucket challenge.  Donations are through the roof.  Yesterday they reported making over $94.3 million in donations in just the last month.  Last year, in the same time period, they received around $2.7 million.  Rather than just say thanks or give the tearful Sally Field “You like me, you really like me!” Oscar acceptance speech they decided to go another direction. They decided to take that warm fuzzy feeling we’ve had from watching or making these videos and donating to a worthy cause and pour a giant bucket of ice water on our flames of altruism.

As first reported on the Erik M Pelton & Associates blog, the ALSA filed an application with the US Patent and Trademark Office to be granted a trademark for the term ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE as used for any charitable fundraising.  They also filed an application for ALS ICE BUCKET CHALLENGE but it’s the main application that should make people furious.  Heck, it made me enough to write a blog post on a Thursday night and I never do that.

Filing a trademark for the term “Ice Bucket Challenge” would allow them to prevent any other charity from promoting a campaign that the ALSA had fall into their lap.  The ALSA did not create this concept.  They did not market this campaign until it already went viral.  They have no responsibility whatsoever for this going viral.  If the ice bucket challenge had found a connection to the American Heart Association or the American Cancer Society then it could have gone just as viral.

What on earth could make the ALSA think they should have any right whatsoever to prevent someone else from using this challenge?

I can’t think of a good reason.  I can think of reasons, mind you.  They just aren’t good.  Fortune was able to get a statement from ALSA spokesperson Carrie Munk:

The ALS Association took steps to trademark Ice Bucket Challenge after securing the blessings of the families who initiated the challenge this summer. We did this as a good faith effort after hearing that for-profit businesses were creating confusion by marketing ALS products in order to capitalize on this grassroots charitable effort.

Sorry, ALSA, but that excuse doesn’t hold water.

First, obtaining the blessings of the families who created this challenge is nonsense.  Even if you got permission from everyone who ever did an ice bucket challenge–SO WHAT?  This was a charity drive.  You think the first charity to earn a million dollars from a bake sale should get to stop all other bake sales?  Because that’s what filing a trademark on the challenge is an attempt to do–you’re trying to stop any other charity from using the term for fundraising.

Second, you heard some shady companies were making money off the Ice Bucket Challenge?  Wow, that must be weird.  To think there are these companies just sitting around making money off something they didn’t create.  JUST LIKE YOU.  Who cares if someone makes an Ice Bucket Challenge shirt and sells it?  If it says ALSA on it or has your logo you can already go after them without this new trademark application.

The ALSA’s actions are atrocious and reprehensible.  They may have raised a ton of money this summer but it could all backfire over a move like this.

But here, ALSA, I’m going to be nicer than you appear to be.  Here’s a way for you to cover your cold, soaked behinds and spin this in a favorable way.  What you should have done is post on your website the day you filed the application, saying that you are only doing so to protect all charities from shady profiteers but that all charities would be free to use the mark forever for no charge if you received the trademark.  The fact that you didn’t tell anyone about the application and only commented when it was called out on social media (by the way, you’ve heard about this social media thing and how a lot of people use it, right?) you can just blame on being so busy counting all your money.  It’s a bad excuse, but maybe it can save some face.

Because right now you look like a bunch of iceholes and I resent every penny I gave you.  Not for the good work you’ve done, which is a lot, or the families you’ve helped, which are numerous, but for being greedy instead of generous, selfish instead of, you know, charitable.

Update Aug 29: The ALSA has withdrawn their trademark application. Good.


Filed under Celebrities, Crowdfunding, Facebook, Social Content, Social Tracking

Is Paper A Brilliant Mistake By Facebook?

So easy, you can even use your left hand!

Facebook’s latest standalone app Paper was released yesterday and is already the second most downloaded free app on iTunes (behind Flappy Bird, because people apparently hate themselves).  There are already a number of reviews such as Time, Verge, Cnet, and the MIT Technology Review along with several thousand others.  The reviews are all mostly positive and highlight how this may be the future of how Facebook content is delivered on a mobile device.  That may be true but the current iteration may be a brilliant mistake by Facebook.

First, make no mistake, it is a brilliant new design.  Not only is it something new, borrowing elements from other news readers like Flipboard, it is still highly approachable even by people who are only used to the old Facebook design or who haven’t used news aggregation apps.  There is also a subtle but very engaging tutorial process within the app–it doesn’t cram all the steps to use the app up front but tells you about features as you use the app more and more.  An amazing user interface and tutorial will no doubt make this an engaging app.

The app also is a fantastic news reader.  Granted, it still has some limits–only sources that Facebook provides, a limit on the number of topics/streams you can swipe left/right between–but as a news reader it is a great option and certainly more viable than the Facebook app ever was.  In that sense it will be highly competitive with other news readers.

But many reviews are focusing on how this app could be the future of all Facebook and that would be a mistake in the current version.  Certainly, all the major Facebook functionality is there.  Your primary source/stream is Facebook stories posted by your friends.  Text, photos, comments, Likes, they’re all there just in a new visual representation.  You can even get your Facebook notifications and message alerts through the app making it a wholesale replacement for your Facebook app if you wanted.

The mistake is that the current app loses what makes Facebook valuable.  We visit Facebook to interact with our friends: to see what our friends are doing and make comments, to see pictures, and the general content that they have shared.  While we may encounter news on Facebook either as stories shared by our friends or articles that appear from sources in our News feed, for the vast majority of Facebook users this is not the primary reason we visit Facebook.  And although this traditional Facebook content is the first source of information for the Paper app it is quickly overwhelmed by all the other streams of data that have nothing to do with your friends.

Once you have swiped away from the Facebook feed you are now in non-Facebook land.  Gone are the articles that your friends have shared or commented on so you may be more likely to read them.  Gone are any kind of introduction or reason to read some new story.  Gone is any compelling reason for me to care about the content except the content itself.

It’s a better newspaper, visually, but isn’t Facebook about connecting people?  Mark Zuckerberg’s post today about the 10th anniversary of Facebook speaks of the importance of connecting people but the majority of the Paper app is completely disconnected from your friends and content.  It is a lovely interface, true, but if someone else can duplicate that interface then there is nothing better about the Paper app right now in terms of it being a social news application.  In many ways, it’s worse in that it may reduce the time you spend interacting with your friends (Facebook’s primary asset) and instead interacting with news stories that have nothing to do with Facebook itself.

As with all social applications, time will tell what Paper will become or how it will be used.  But I find it odd that Facebook would release a standalone application that takes it so far away from what Facebook is really good at and says they are all about–connecting people.  Paper connects people to news at the cost of shutting out your network of friends.  If that is the future of Facebook then that leaves the door open for a lot of competition.

Leave a comment

Filed under Facebook, Social Content, Social Platforms

Practical Guide To Facebook’s Promotion Changes

Now 100% Permissible!

Facebook made significant changes to their Facebook Pages Terms a few weeks ago that dramatically impact the kinds of promotions allowed on the platform. I briefly discussed these changes in The Great Facebook Legalization post, and although Facebook provided a blog post about the changes and a nice two-page downloadable guide to the changes, I know many people who were still confused.  I may or may not have been one of them.  But last week I had the privilege of chairing the Digital Advertising Compliance: Sweepstakes, Social Media and Promotions conference in New York City.  One of our speakers was an attorney from the Facebook policy team that did a great job explaining the changes.  I thought it would be worth describing those changes in a bit more detail based on the materials she presented.

To keep things simple, I’ll use the term promotions for both contests and sweepstakes.  If you don’t know the difference between the two then you need to consult with your marketing attorney.  Truth be told, any time you’re running a promotion it’s a good idea to consult with your marketing attorney or any reference materials a marketing attorney may have provided to you.

What Hasn’t Changed

First, it’s important to note some big things haven’t changed.  Chief among them–anything technical.  The new rules do not implement any technological changes, it is simply Facebook’s policies that are allowing these activities to take place.  Brands may have done some of these activities before (such as “Click Like to win!” sweepstakes) and if Facebook found out the promotion was shut down.  Now, Facebook won’t shut them down.  So it’s important to realize this is just a change in rules.  And rules can always change, so you should always see what the current rules are whenever you plan a promotion on Facebook or any other platform.

Going along with the notion that nothing technical has changed, another big element to keep in mind is that Pages run by brands still cannot send private messages to individuals.  So even though we are now entering a time when a promotion could be run on Facebook without an app and just on the page, there is no new functionality to notify a winner.  If that matters to you (and it should) then you’ll need to consider how to notify the winner when you can’t message them (like if you want to verify qualifications prior to announcing them the winner).

The Big Changes

Prior to these policy changes the only way to run a promotion was to use an application.  Unless you had the resources to write the code and provide some snazzy images yourself that likely meant you needed a third party to develop your app.  Now that restriction has been limited and the following items may be used in administering a promotion:

  1. Like to enter.  Post a status update or photo on your page and your fans can simply click the Like button to be entered into a drawing for a chance to win.  It will still fall to you to gather all the entries and randomly select one to win, but the mechanic itself is now permitted.
  2. Comment to enter.  Similar to clicking Like, you can also have fans provide a comment (funny caption, short statement, answer to a question, favorite Jesse Pinkman quote, etc.) as a way of entering a promotion.
  3. Post on page to enter.  You can also have your fans enter a promotion by posting to the brand’s page.  You would probably want to include some way of differentiating between promotion entries and regular postings to your page, possibly including a specific #hashtag for your promotion, but that’s up to you.
  4. Message a page to enter.  This one is a bit strange, since most brands tend to run promotions to generate public interest.  But in the event you’d like to run a secret promotion where the entries are unknown to anyone but the brand, then you are free to have fans message the page as a way of entering the promotion.
  5. Use Like as a voting mechanism.  You can allow fans to click Like on status updates or photos as a way of voting within a promotion.  How you present all the options and how you consider those votes (see Best Practices below) is up to you.

Still Not Allowed

Although those five items are now permitted by Facebook, there are still some activities that are not allowed in terms of promotions on Facebook.

  1. No entry via status updates with a #hashtag.  While you can have fans enter a promotion by posting something to the brand’s Page with a #hashtag, you cannot have a promotion where a fan enters by making a post on their own Timeline that includes the #hashtag.  Part of this restriction is technical–it would require you to explain that the update be public or else the brand can’t see it when it’s time to collect entries–and part of this restriction is to keep Timelines from looking like spam.  But if you want fans to enter by posting something, it has to be posted to the brand’s Page, not their Timeline.
  2. No entry via tagging people in a photo if they aren’t in the photo.  You cannot run a promotion, for example, that has a picture of a product and encourages fans to tag themselves and others on the photo for a chance to win it.  Tagging is reserved for photos that actually have the people in the photo.

Best Practices

These changes may take some time to be sucessfully integrated into your own marketing efforts so I suggest some best practices as you start to use them.  These are all in addition to the Best Practices suggested by Facebook in that downloadable guide I linked above.

  1. Think about notifying the winners.  As we mentioned before, brand Pages have no new way of communicating directly with promotion winners.  This was less of a problem when you ran a promotion through an app that could link to a privacy policy and collect an email address to notify winners.  Now many brands will be tempted to run a promotion entirely on Facebook but not think through how they will notify a winner.  This can be especially tricky if you have a potential winner but need to verify the entrant meets certain qualifications (over 18, can travel for the grand prize, etc.).  
  2. Don’t use Like as the only way to pick a winner.  Feel free to use voting (Like or otherwise) as one factor in picking a winner but not the only one.  It always ends poorly.  Always.  People will accuse others of cheating, of trading votes, of making up user accounts and so on.  Using the Like button is very convenient, but it also has the added downside of a fan deciding to Unlike later on which can distort results.
  3. Talk to an attorney.  The good news is that running promotions on Facebook is now easier.  The bad news is that running promotions on Facebook is now easier.  If you don’t know the legal risks you’re running up against then you need to talk to an attorney.  If you’re planning on running a contest for a $5,000 grand prize and self-administer, you need to talk to an attorney (and then a third party administrator).  If you’re planning on giving away a single prize of substantial value, you need to talk to an attorney (and if you’re asking “What’s substantial value?” then go talk to the attorney).  If you’re thinking you can run a global sweepstakes you really need to talk to an attorney.  Promotions carry legal risk even (especially!) when they’re simple to run.  This is not to say you’ll need to go through a lengthy legal review every time you want to run a promotion but you should know your limits and when others need to be looped in.  And you want to know the only way you can discover those limits?  That’s right, talk to an attorney!


Filed under Commercial Activity, Consumer Protection, Facebook, Laws, Social Content, Social Gaming, Social Marketing, Social Platforms, Terms and Conditions

The Great Facebook Legalization

I know what you’re thinking. “Did I click 5 Likes or 6 to win those headphones?” We have all your data. So you gotta ask yourself one question: “Do I feel lucky?” Well, do ya, punk?

We’ve all done it. Browsing your Facebook feed a picture pops up. Maybe it’s from a page you like. Maybe a friend shared it with you. Maybe it was a promoted post. But you saw it and you did it.

You clicked Like so you could win something.

The prize didn’t matter. Bejeweled Blitz coins. A coupon for free sushi. Sunglasses. Cruise discounts. Books. Art. You probably didn’t win but you figured it was easy enough to enter.

What you didn’t realize was that you were helping commit a crime.

Okay, not a full on crime. Rather, you were assisting in the violation of Facebook’s terms and conditions. Don’t worry, you didn’t do anything wrong. The brand that ran the contest did though.

For many years Facebook required promotions (contest and sweepstakes) to be run through Facebook applications. You were not allowed to use Facebook functionality to enter. That means “Like to enter” or “Share to enter” or “Post a photo to enter” or “Comment to enter” were all violations of Facebook’s terms. If Facebook found out about them, they shut it down–but these contests/sweepstakes were too easy to set up and Facebook doesn’t have a dedicated police force to seek out bad promos.

And we’ve all entered them. Many may have been small companies running a contest. Sometimes they were scam pages looking to pull data from fans (when you Like a page that page can pull a lot of data from your profile). Every so often you would see a major brand run a contest that violated the terms as well. Pepsi did that a few times and they got pulled down. Scams typically got pulled eventually or if they received enough traffic. Small companies mostly got away with it.

I used to guess why Facebook had this restriction. Maybe because apps had better privacy controls than page Likes. Maybe it was some legacy tech issue. Doesn’t matter now that Facebook has changed the terms to allow these promotions to take place.

There is still one remaining restriction brands should know about. Facebook is concerned about promotions that lead to inaccurate photo tagging. For example, promotions that use a photo of a product and encourage users to tag themselves or others in the photo (even though those users are not in the photo) are not allowed.

Which means those sweepstakes will still go on and they’ll still be unauthorized. Perhaps Facebook will try and crack down on these more than the past, knowing that they have permitted more activities so they will try and crack down on the one category they are trying to restrict. Or perhaps enforcement will be unchanged and you’ll see plenty of these promotions populate your Facebook feed.

But now, before you enter, you’ll know that the sweepstakes is unauthorized. Whether that makes it more or less appealing to you is up to you. Facebook doesn’t judge.

1 Comment

Filed under Facebook, Social Marketing, Social Measurement, Social Platforms, Terms and Conditions