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Is Facebook Reading Status Updates to Co-opt Comment Threads?

Facebook may be going a step too far by adding unsolicited gift card suggestions to people’s status updates.

A friend of mine is leaving her job and starting a fantastic new one, and so she announced it on Facebook. The likes and comments piled up, but there was also something else I noticed when I saw her post in my News Feed. Right above the comments and below the likes was a nudge from Facebook to “surprise” my friend with a gift.

As it seeks new ways to make money, Facebook has been pushing its Gifts feature for the last few months, making it easy to buy an iTunes or Starbucks gift card to celebrate a friend’s birthday or engagement or graduation. 

But placing a commercial message at the top of the comment thread on my friend’s personal update is a move I had never noticed before. It was jarring, and also strange because nowhere had my friend yet changed her job status on her profile page. Facebook appears to have had software read and analyze the text of her post to conclude the occasion warranted a gift suggestion.

Unlike some people I know, I’m relatively tolerant of Facebook’s ads. I understand the company needs to make money, and I am free to ignore them. But co-opting my friend’s good news with an advertisment to buy her a gift that she did not solicit seems a step too far. Worse, I doubt my friend even realized that’s what we all were seeing. When I clicked on her profile page, the gift suggestion was nowhere in sight. It only appeared on my own News Feed. 

Facebook is known for testing many features on small groups of users, so what I saw may be simply a test of whether certain kinds of ads can work within a status update. If so, I would advise Facebook to tread carefully there. Already, on the comment thread of my friend’s post, another person wrote: “facebook wants me to give you a starbucks gift card as a way of saying congrats. facebook can go $%&^$ itself. love you though!”

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