Facebook’s News Feed is the most powerful content distribution engine on the web. Because of its huge number of engaged users, how Facebook rewards and promotes certain content can mean life or death for online publishers. the News Feed is also Facebook’s biggest revenue generator, where its best and most expensive ads live — and Facebook is dependent on those ads, 89% of its $7.8 billion of revenue in 2013 came from ads.
Late last year, Facebook altered how its presents shared articles and links in order to deemphasize “low-quality” content, including macros and memes. It also included its own article recommendations based on what each person had posted, seen, or liked in the past and, early this year, added a trending stories module on the right-hand side of the News Feed.
But how to distinguish between ads that companies pay to place in your News Feed and stuff that your friends and publishers you follow post?
Facebook has been asking users (or at least me) to do a survey where it served up 15 posts that appeared in the News Feed and asking if it “feels like an ad.” And yes, I was aware that I was being asked for my feedback and consented. Facebook did not respond to a request for comment on how long they had been soliciting this feedback or why it was doing the survey.
Only three of the posts were paid ads from companies or brands I don’t follow, and one was a blatantly spammy ad for a game. But nearly everything it showed me was promotional — asking me to click, like, or share a story a friend wrote, a new profile picture, an outrageous news story. Facebook may need to charge for ads to survive, but it has no problem getting us to advertise ourselves.