Bloomberg Businessweek on MSNBC has a long piece from Brad Stone about Facebook’s insidious ad strategies. (Found via PopMatters, who has their own commentary.) I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the blending of advertising and content, as Facebook is doing in your news feed, because that’s always been a sort of sacred boundary for publishers—commenters have historically freaked out when advertising blends itself with content. Conversely, advertising totally separate from content is usually easier to ignore.
Even Gawker Media, long considered one of my more nefarious clients, have a fairly clear boundary between church and state, and their more direct attempts to create content from advertising bucks—like this post—come out feeling a little dead. The post is dry, boring, and has no commenting available (I’d say because they know the comments will be unkind). The event itself is a ripoff from Jonathan Lethem’s You Don’t Love Me Yet—and given some of the site’s readership may recognize the post as the result of an unthinking derivation, there’s really no reason to pay attention to it at all. So a “sponsored post” box really means “ignore this with good reason.”
But the difference is that Denton and Company still like making content, and care (somewhat) about making sure it’s separate from advertising—meanwhile, Facebook’s never cared about making such distinctions. They care more about leveraging a brand’s likability, despite the company’s actual performance in the marketplace, because your friends have liked it.
Social activity is currency in their world, and your worth is valued by how mobile you are in your friends’ feed. Which is, of course, utterly false—if I’m quiet on Facebook, am I less of an actual person? Of course not. It’s just another insipid way to devalue human experience and give false value to mechanical motion.
To my mind, liking a brand because others have done so is about as idiotic as believing all the lefty rhetoric about Sarah Palin, just because your friends told you it’s true. But maybe the typical Facebook user thinks differently about following.