Facebook’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad problem

Facebook is playing a high-risk game with Promoted Posts, angering its most visible and vocal fans.

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Like anyone with more than a billion friends, Facebook has its share of problems. But there’s a new one brewing that could mean serious trouble for the world’s biggest social network, and it has nothing to do with privacy.

Facebook has started to charge people – more specifically, businesses, celebrities, and organizations – for the privilege of promoting themselves to their fans and friends. And those businesses and celebs don’t like it one bit.

In other words, a service that Facebook offered for free -- so that it could entice people to create Pages and set up virtual storefronts on the network -- now costs actual money. There was no official announcement, no suggestion that a change was in order, nothing visible to the naked eye. It just started to happen.

The fact that this started to happen shortly after a) Facebook’s IPO tanked, causing it to scramble for new revenue models, and b) it unveiled “Promoted Posts,” which allows users to distribute their posts more widely for a fee, is mere coincidence, Facebook says.

Facebook is claiming that it has done nothing different to its EdgeRank algorithms since it introduced Promoted Posts; it says it is merely filtering the content sent to people’s news feeds in order to make it less spammy and more ‘relevant.’

But nobody is buying that line. And when the people who aren’t buying that line are highly visible social media personalities like Mark Cuban and George Takei, whose voices carry quite a distance, that’s a real problem for Facebook.

Over at Read/Write, newly minted editor Dan Lyon writes about how ticked off Mark Cuban is by Facebook’s promotional policies. The billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks is not exactly shy about sharing his opinions about everything. He told Lyons:

"We are moving far more aggressively into Twitter and reducing any and all emphasis on Facebook," Cuban says, via email. "We won't abandon Facebook, we will still use it, but our priority is to add followers that our brands can reach on non-Facebook platforms first."

Cuban says he’s going to spend his time and money promoting his 70-odd companies on Tumblr and even – yes – Justin Timberlake’s new MySpace. (The demo of which, I am embarrassed to admit, looks pretty wicked awesome.)

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