Facebook: Goodbye sponsored stories, hello hashtags

While the rest of us were obsessing over the NSA and domestic spying, Facebook was busy introducing a major feature while killing another.

We now take a break from our wall-to-wall coverage of the Snowden Affair (aka The Pole Dancer Who Loved Me), to bring you two significant developments on the Facebook front.

First, Facebook has jumped aboard the hashtag express, which began spontaneously on Twitter roughly six years ago and has become the de facto tagging method for just about every site from Instagram to Tumblr.

From now on, you can tag your public updates with, say, #love or #lol or #GoSpurs or #ImSoStoned, and then search for public updates from other FBers using the same hashtag by clicking on the same tag.

fb hashtag munchies 600p.png

Privacywise, hashtags will have little impact on your Facebook experience. They will be subject to the same restrictions as regular updates; ie, if you marked an update as “friends only,” only people in your posse will be able to see that update when searching on that hashtag.

This is probably something Facebook decided to do after it acquired Instagram last year, and it’s taken them this long to roll it out. It makes Facebook instantly more useful and searchable than its much vaunted but actually pretty lame Graph Search, which it rolled out last January.

Bigger and better news: Facebook is finally putting a bullet through the head of one of the more hateful ideas it’s had in recent years, the sponsored story. These ad units translated your Likes into endorsements for Facebook sponsors – endorsements you automatically consented to and were not compensated for.

But don’t break out the champagne just yet. Sponsored stories aren’t really going away, though, they’re morphing into a different kind of ad. In Facebook speak:

Previously, to get the best social context available, advertisers had to purchase sponsored stories in addition to ads. In the future, for example, when you create a Page post photo ad, we will automatically add social context to boost performance and eliminate the extra step of creating sponsored stories.

Translation: Nearly all Facebook ads will be sponsored ads. So instead of seeing something like this:

fb avocado ad 1.png

You’ll see something like this:

fb avocado ad 2.png

Is that an improvement? Sure. I guess. It still doesn’t make me want to click Like on avocados, though.

OK, now back to the Snowden Identity for a minute. As a result of all the speculation and misinformation about what information major Internet companies are sharing with the feds via the PRISM program, Facebook has joined with Google and Microsoft in asking the US government to be more transparent about how this process works. Essentially, Facebook is pleading with the feds to let it disclose a scosh more information about the number of requests it receives from the FISA court for user information, as well as how it responds to those requests.

A good idea, an eminently reasonable request, and long overdue. But I bet the answer is still no.

When Facebook is more forthcoming about the data it gathers than the US government, you know things are bad.

Got a question about social media or privacy? TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan may have the answer (and if not, he’ll make something up). Visit his snarky, occasionally NSFW blogeSarcasm or follow him on Twitter: @tynanwrites. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-to’s, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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