Facebook charges users to send messages to celebrities

Facebook plans to combat spam by charging users to send messages to people they aren't friends with

Nicole Kobie
8 Apr 2013

Facebook has confirmed it is considering charging UK users to send messages to people who aren't on their friends list, in a bid to prevent spam.

The plans first slipped out earlier this year, with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg charging $100 to contact him. His charge has since been scrapped, but Facebook has already started rolling out the system in the US, trialling a fixed $1 per message.

In the UK trials, sending a message to a regular users who isn't a friend costs an average of 71p. Celebrities - or anyone with many users - will cost more, on a sliding scale of how popular they are, up to £10.68, according to The Sunday Times.

The price depends on how many followers the person has and how many messages they receive, rather than a base measure of how famous they are in the real world.

Facebook users can still send a message to a celebrity without paying, but it will be automatically directed to the "other" folder, which makes it less likely Lady Gaga or David Beckham - or their social media staff - will see it.

Facebook's celebrity fees

Want to send a message to Tom Daley? The Sunday Times has revealed the costs of contacting famous Britons - or their girlfriends - over Facebook:
- Olympic diver Tom Daley: £10.68
- rapper Snoop Dogg: £10.68
- author Nick Hornby: 71p
- Prince Harry's girlfriend Cressida Bonas: 71p
- Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt: 71p

A spokesman for Facebook said: "The system of paying to message non-friends in their Facebook inbox is designed to prevent spam, while acknowledging that sometimes you might want to hear from people outside your immediate social circle."

"We are testing a number of price points in the UK and other countries to establish the optimal fee that signals importance. Part of that test involves charging higher amounts for public figures, based on the number of followers they have," the spokesman added. "This is still a test and these prices are not set in stone."

CentMail spam blocking

This isn't the first time a charge has been mooted as a way to beat spam. The idea of a small charge to ensure email gets through has been debated for the past two decades, with Yahoo and AOL considering the idea in 2005, and CentMail launching in 2009, donating to charity all the money it gathered with its "penny email stamps".

The system attaches a one-cent charge to legitimate email, to help sort it from spam. As CentMail points out: "since spammers send millions of emails every day, it is prohibitively expensive for them to donate even just 1¢ per email."

That raises the point of why Facebook is charging so much to prevent spam, and why it's offering a sliding scale for celebrities.

One analyst told Sky News the plans appeared to be the first step to slowly introducing other charges to the site, while comments from users on Twitter and news sites have suggested some see the move as a way to boost revenue rather than block spam, or a way to get users' credit card details on file. It also raises the risk that children using the site will rack up bills by sending messages to their favourite celebrities.

The message charging system is currently a trial, and not available to all users.

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