Facebook Sharing: The Little-Known Sleaze Factor

facebook-likeI am what might be called an “active sharer” with my friends on Facebook. I enjoy sharing that which makes me laugh, marvel or challenges my thinking.

However, there’s a really ugly thing happening on Facebook. It’s been going on for a long time, and I just thought it was working pointing it out…so that folks of conscience might ponder whether or not they want to change their sharing behavior in some way.

The vast majority of the videos that get shared directly on Facebook (and no, we’re not talking about YouTube videos here) are actually content stolen from their original creators and reposted by the thieves on Facebook.

Why would they do this? Well, there’s half the story…which is that those who post them are too lazy and too uncreative to come up with original content of their own, so, instead, they resort to stealing. But the more interesting part of the story is that many of them are building their “brands”..garnering lots of Likes and followers who they can continue to spoon-feed content…and they don’t want people going to YouTube to watch instead of their page. Many of these pages are then used to advertise products or to redirect folks to web sites outside of Facebook. But many of them will be sold off to the highest bidder…giving marketers access to your personal info that you never intended to grant to them. This is actually a massive business…where large followings can fetch some pretty serious money…again…built on STOLEN CONTENT. You can read more about that here.

So, that’s one factor worth being aware of. Another is the strong potential for loss of income to those who created of the original video. You see, YouTube actually PAYS people to great good content through their monetization program. In other words, if a video gets a LOT of views, the creator can end up earning tens of thousands of dollars. There are a number of people who make their full-time living doing this.

So…thief does no work: MAKES MONEY. Video creator does all the work: LOSES MONEY. Anybody else see something wrong with this picture?

And, of course, Facebook does nothing to police this abuse at all…although I’m sure they have a mechanism for handling complaints if someone is aware their content has been reposted and takes the time to complain and document their ownership.

OK, but…what should you do about it?

What I do personally is try to go to YouTube to find the original video…even on YouTube, there are those who steal and re-post. And then I share that instead of the video posted to Facebook.

Also, I personally have created a site to enhance my sharing called ItsClickworthy.com…where I link to the original video on YouTube (so the publisher still benefits), and then share that on Facebook instead.

So…before you just click Share on a video that was posted directly to Facebook, please be aware that you are unwittingly supporting piracy, and likely discouraging further creativity from the creator of the original video.

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As of the end of 2011, there were 37 million Facebook pages (aka “fan pages”) for which 10 or more people have clicked the “Like” button. They range from major brands like Pepsi to creators of witty word graphics to indie musicians. Almost everyone knows that Facebook profits greatly from the use of the personal information of its users…but now, they have a new profit center to target: owners of Facebook pages with more than 400 fans.

As the owner of several FB pages in service of a number of my web sites, I spent a lot of time building up the fan bases over the past couple years…including spending money on Facebook ads…to get the word out to those who might be interested. As a fairly heavy Facebook user myself, I felt it made a lot of sense to connect with people as part of their daily FB activity to let them know of new postings on my sites which they might find of interest.

My 3 most active FB pages have 650, 2100 and 7100 fans respectively. To be clear, none of these involve sales of products…rather, they notify particular niche audiences about free music, stories, coloring pages and music videos, which (obviously) many people have found valuable enough to express interest.

I also have a number of friends (music artists, mostly) who started out with standard Facebook accounts…hit the 5K-friend hard cap…and were forced to try to get their fans to switch over to FB pages. These pages are, by nature, less appropriate for interaction with fans…and most of the migration efforts were marginally successful, at best. And then, FB came along and told them they really should have just had people *subscribe* to them anyway. Talk about mixed messages!

So, back to the point: After this investment of time and money to maintain and grow these pages, I am now informed (initially by a blog post from Shane Eubanks) that only a small percentage of those who thought enough of my pages to press Like ever see the posts I make on their behalf.

What percentage? Hard to say definitively…due to a bug in in the Facebook interface at the moment, I can only check one of them. But on that one page, my posts this week ranged between 1% and 7% of my 2000+ subscribers. In other words…almost no one.

As an average FB user, I have always resented being told that Facebook knows better than I do what I want to see of my friends’ activity. But, that’s a minor irritation compared to them blocking my subscribers/fans from seeing what I posted based upon their declared interest! I respect Facebook’s need to make a profit, but I consider this move on their part awkward, ill-considered and utterly unjustifiable. And yet…they do try to justify it.

First off, things *have changed about how your posts are shared. They are barely shared at all. Just because the sharing mechanism remains the same hardly excuses such a statement. And, they also don’t say that most people have a limited view of activity because Facebook controls it instead of allowing you to do so. And it’s a flat-out fabrication to say that “many of the people connected to your Page may still see it”. Not when only 5% of the subscribers ever have the chance!

So, Facebook sees a potential goldmine here. And…how do they choose to implement it? By charging page owners for every single post they make on their page (assuming that the owner wants their subscribers to actually see the post)!

I can understand Facebook seeing page owners as a potential profit center. And a small monthly or yearly charge might be reasonable for many/most active page owners, considering the potential value of connecting with an interested subscriber base.

How will fan page owners react?

  • Will they be satisfied with only reaching 5% of their subscribers for free?
  • Will they pay $5 per post (or whatever Facebook demands at any given time) to reach up to 70%-80% instead?
  • Will they shut down the pages entirely…and attempt to drive fans back to their web sites or email subscriptions, where everyone at least has the *chance* to see everything in which they’ve expressed interest (also, thereby depriving FB of the opportunity to show display and profit from their own ads)?

Or is it possible that, as word of this gets out, that the backlash from page owners will force Facebook to relent and offer a more reasoned approach?

By the way, I’d LOVE to find out that I’m wrong about this…either Facebook’s actions or my interpretation thereof. But as of now…the evidence seems fairly clear: Page owners are screwed.
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Those who have spoken up over the past…oh, however long it’s been…about the “dangers of do-follow” are focused on the evils of spam and the increased maintenance side of things. Yes, if you’re going to manually monitor and approve blog comments (as I still do), it adds a bit of time to your daily routine. But I think this perspective is missing the point. Blogs are about self-expression, yes…but they are also about community. For me, if you don’t want community on your blog…TURN OFF THE COMMENT FUNCTION and just use it as a newsletter.

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Despite their slowness to adopt new technologies and business models in the internet age, I’ve still found myself mostly on the side of the record companies when it comes to the file-sharing debacle. The grounds for my position have been both legal and moral: Legally, the record companies own the rights to music that is created, produced and publicized as a result of their investment (no one forced artists to sign with record companies, and if you go that route, then they control your music for the most part)…and morally, because it’s wrong to steal. And file sharing is theft…no matter what fancy semantics or logic you attempt to employ to argue otherwise. And besides, I would argue: the record companies are getting better. Just look at iTunes, Amazon, Walmart…for 88 cents to $1.29, you can buy a decent copy of virtually any song…and that’s a lot better than the way things used to be.

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I guess I’m writing this point for one good reason: I just want to make sure it’s written down somewhere, so that I don’t have to keep repeating myself (because I will, and that gets old for me and for you). It’s easier to just refer folks to a single spot if they want to read more.

For me, this whole “make money online” thing is growing a bit old. I think that’s mostly due to the same reason that most music and TV bore me these days: People are so busy reinventing the wheel that we only rarely see anything new, much less anything new that’s worth seeing. I have a degree of respect for the scrappy, creative thinkers who not only think outside the lines, but invest the energy to study what they’re doing and pass along some of the results (i.e., Shoemoney and John Chow), but even moreso for those who seem to have made it their mission to instill some ethics and conscience in an industry that’s sorely lacking (i.e., Darren Rowse, Rand Fishkin, John Reese).

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