Facebook and Instagram have been free for nineteen years. Now CEO Mark Zuckerberg wants to change that a bit for the first time. Yesterday he announced that there will be a subscription. It starts with a test in New Zealand and Australia. A striking move for one of the largest advertising giants on the internet.
What does the arrival of this subscription mean and what are the caveats? Five questions and answers.
What does the subscription include?
The subscription is called ‘Meta Verified’ and works for both Instagram and Facebook. It is currently aimed at so-called creators. Either creators who often try to monetize photos or videos on platforms like Instagram. In their own words, Meta wants to make it easier for them to grow on the platform.
For a fixed amount per month, they first receive a blue verification check mark next to their name. A status symbol – the value of which will diminish with this subscription – and a sign that you are who you say you are. In addition, Meta creators promises three other things: greater reach, better protection against fake accounts and access to a real employee in case of problems. The subscription does not offer the option to turn off advertising.
Users without a subscription also expect the things that Meta now offers for a fee. A delicate balance: how do you prevent users who do not pay from thinking they will get off badly? This is also reflected in the company’s response to questions from the NOS. In it, the options are listed as additions.
Is this the end of free Facebook and Instagram?
No. Although a Meta spokesperson would not rule out anything when asked, the chance that you will ever have to pay for Facebook and Instagram is nil. The reason is simple: Meta makes an awful lot of money from advertising. Last year, 105 billion euros.
In comparison: Netflix earns 29 billion euros from its 230 million paying subscribers. Meta has many more users, but the question is how many of them are willing to pay. The company would be crazy to abandon its successful advertising model. The two sources of income next to each other makes more sense.
Why is Meta bringing this up now?
According to the company, there is a lot of demand for verification, more support and more reach. Since last year, Meta says it has been thinking about how it can make these features available for a fee. A former Meta employee says on Twitter that his team was already working on personal and business verification back in 2018.
In addition, the timing of CEO Zuckerberg will not be bad. He has declared 2023 the year of efficiency, so pay more attention to spending. Last year, the company laid off more than 11,000 employees. Sales growth has stopped for the time being. A subscription can then be an interesting additional source of income.
Do other social media do this too?
The best known – and most notorious – example of paying for verification and reach is Twitter. Shortly after Elon Musk became the new owner last fall, he came up with a plan that offered these features for $8 a month.
Initially, this went wrong and led to chaos: users pretended to be large American companies, for example. In the second instance it seemed to go better, but The Washington Post managed to take advantage of it in a test.
Is there a chance of abuse?
No doubt people are going to try to get a paid check on Instagram and Facebook using fake accounts. So Twitter went wrong in the first place. Meta will be very keen to prevent that. That’s why it’s testing in two countries first. In addition, a number of criteria apply. For example, there must be sufficient ‘activity’ on the account, you must be at least 18 years old and, for example, upload your proof of identity.
But inherent to large platforms such as Facebook and Instagram is that it is impossible to create a watertight system. The question is therefore not so much if, but rather when things go wrong and on what scale.
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