In an effort to combat rumors that the site will charge users for access, Facebook has updated the language on the account sign-up form on the front page to read, “It’s free (and always will be)”. Despite Facebook spokesman Larry Yu directly addressing concerns last month by telling CNN, “We have absolutely no plans to charge for the basic service of using Facebook,” some users still believe the company is looking to pull a bait-and-switch.
While many in Silicon Valley are focused on other Facebook issues, like privacy, security, and the implementation of Credits, much of the public appears to be more worried about being forced to pay direct fees. Some of our readers might find this surprising, but the change to the front page underlines how serious Facebook takes the fears.
As users invest time and energy in their accounts by forming connections, uploading photos, and manicuring their digital identity, the possibility of losing access if they don’t pay becomes more frightening, to them. Facebook’s advertising and virtual goods business models are based on the idea of the product being free and as widely distributed as possible.
The myths have been perpetuated over the years by a series of chain emails, wall posts and status messages which often listed a specific date when the site would cease to be free and a price such as $3.99/month. In some cases, clicking the link to a supposed protest group actually led to a page of inappropriate images and gave access to a user’s computer to hackers.
Unfortunately, many users shared these traps before clicking, or after having their accounts hijacked, spreadthe misinformation. Facebook responded with a blog post in 2007 stating “We are not going to start charging you to use Facebook” and “So the next time you see a…chain anything, report it to our User Operations team, and tell all your friends to ignore it.” In February 2010, a similar message claiming Zynga’s FarmVille would charge a subscription fee circulated, which the game developer quickly denounced.
Groups protesting the concept of the site charging its users continue to emerge, though. Facebook has shut down some of these groups, while others have changed their names to things like “Facebook is and will always remain free to use” to help debunk the myths. By adding “(and always be)” to the existing statement that “It’s free,” Facebook hopes to firmly halt speculation about the future and assure users that they’ve made a sound investment of their time.