“It’s free and always will be” is no longer a Facebook slogan as you register or sign up for the social media platform. Now the slogan on the homepage is: “Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life”. What is behind this change?
To understand what is behind this change, at least in the EU, you have to go back to an explanation that was once provided by Sheryl Sandberg, a former Meta executive.
In 2018 she indicated that “members of the social network would have to pay if they didn't want to receive data-targeted ads”, according to reports by Cnet. It seems that moment has come as Facebook responds to EU policies and court rulings to restrict Meta’s data-collection practices.
According to The New York Times, Facebook’s parent company, Meta, is considering paid versions of Facebook and Instagram that would have no advertising for users in the EU. Facebook is not alone in considering charging for some of its services.
X has also begun a process of charging for premium services for a different reason. According to the new book about its owner, Elon Musk, what is behind the subscription service is partly to prevent tech companies from sourcing X content to train their AI platforms. A subscription version keeps the data away from free riders.
All these developments point towards the end of free social media platforms across the board. We are now headed towards a future that will see us getting two versions, free and paid for social media. One will have enhanced services and the other will be a basic version. Another way of looking at current developments is that we will have the bad and good social media platforms.
You will find a version that has fake users, unverified information and other terrible things. Over time it will become unwise to make use of a free version of social media. Besides all the reasons that have been provided by the platforms it’s also important to consider that this is also about survival. Social media platforms have exhausted the option of relying on advertising for their existence.
We’ve witnessed a situation at Twitter (now X) where the company was struggling, a situation which prompted the new buyer to cut staff and introduce other means of generating revenue.The paid for version of social media platforms will however not solve their problems. These platforms have broken the trust of their users.
For a long time they have built their empires on user data without compensating them financially. At some point social media platforms will have to acknowledge that users deserve to be paid for their data. A win-win situation between creators of platforms and their users will be the foundation upon which to build strong social media platforms.
At present there’s no consensus about the value of each data set that comes from individuals. This needs to be resolved to build a better future for social platforms.
Elon Musk at X is showing the industry how to be fair in this regard. Some users are now getting paid for being on the platform. This, however, is not enough. Apple, although not paying users, is showing us how to better treat their data.
On Apple devices a user is given choices and informed about data use. Now the industry needs to develop an agreed upon economic value for each data set. Users should be aware that their names, locations and preferences are worth something. As long as this is not the case it will be difficult for social media entities to build long-lasting platforms.
Wesley Diphoko is the editor-in-chief of FastCompany (SA) magazine.