Facebook's pay-to-message service puts a price tag on all our heads

But remember this isn't just an online version of our offline social life

Share
Related Topics

What price - in pounds and pence - would your social network fetch? You may not want to answer that (and of course it’s just a set-up) but the bottom-line is some people – even if they’re entirely unpossessed of real friends - have more economically valuable social circles than others. Maybe they know a member of the cabinet and a member of JLS. Maybe they party with Frank Ocean and bother Jonathan Franzen. Top bracket socialites would probably put a price on their contacts book some way over £100,000. Those of us who feel defensive about our own "real" relationships might not want to set the figure any lower – but an external judge certainly would.

And one has arrived to prove it. Facebook announced on the weekend it will start charging users to send messages to strangers, with a fee set by one of those submerged and loosely ominous ‘algorithims’. The metrics haven’t been made public, but price points revealed so far have an enjoyable crudeness to them: it will cost £10.68 to message Tom Daley, £10.08 for Snoop Dogg, and 71p – the standard rate - for health secretary Jeremy Hunt.

For Facebook, who have struggled to turn their 1 billion-strong user base into a consistent source of revenue, the positives of this move are obvious (“cash money money!”). There are also a cluster of bonuses for users. Tweeting a stranger is a bit like whistling at them on the street. Being able to send a message directly to that stranger’s personal inbox is more like standing in their way and talking face-to-face. They don’t necessarily have to stop, but it’s a little harder to tune out.  

In practice and in principle, however, there's room for mild nervousness here. Where for example do you draw the line between a bona fide celebrity (your Snoop Doggs) and someone more locally famous (my Stellas)? How would you feel if it turned out a close friend of yours – a social gadfly - was rated by Facebook at ten times your own value? Once you start putting price tags on users there’s no clear place to draw the line.

It’s also easy to raise the more abstract objection that whereas before Facebook only sold space on its site, now it seems to be selling people. Should this be taken as totally OK? The philosopher Michael Sandel has written of how far the market has already crept into elements of human existence where perhaps it has no place. Today for example you can buy an Indian to carry your baby for $8,000, and under-achieving Dallas school-children receive $2 for every book they read.

Such principled concern can be knocked on the head quite simply in the case of Facebook, however. The site is not just an online version of your offline social life. It is not something to which we have a natural right. It is a service provided by a company that exists to make money. Terms and conditions apply. If it all starts to make you feel cheap, well, there’s probably a vacancy on next year’s Big Brother

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Subsea Cables Installation Project Manager

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Subsea Cables Installation Project Manager

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Head of Offshore Operations & Interfaces

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Offshore Engineering Design Manager

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Abd Mubin Rahim of Malaysia falls to the floor after an unsuccessful lift during the Men's Weightlifting  

Usain Bolt was right about the Commonwealth Games, but we shouldn't blame the organisers

Teddy Cutler
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices