An emerging shift within the social media sphere is effective class division in social platform discussions, with those paying for access to apps getting higher priority and exposure for their contributions, over those who are not.
Which is designed to drive more take-up of subscription packages. Both X Premium and Snapchat+ now offer varying levels of priority display within their benefits, and now, it looks like Meta could also be set to jump onto the same, with a new filter in testing that would enable users to prioritize Meta Verified replies on posts.
As you can see in this example, shared by app researcher Radu Oncescu, Meta’s experimenting with its own reply filter, which would enable users to separate out engagement from paying users in-stream.
Why would anybody want to do that?
Well, theoretically at least, paying users are actual humans, because bot accounts can’t and won’t pay. So as per Elon Musk’s push on subscriptions, the idea is that by prioritizing paying accounts, you can better ensure that you’re not dealing with bots and spammers, which could help you prioritize your engagement.
But as noted, it’s also inadvertently creating a class system, which may be fine in developed nations, and places where paying $12 a month isn’t that big of a deal. But in emerging markets, like, say, India, which has more Facebook users than anywhere else, it’ll definitely lead to a broader divide between the richer users, who can afford to pay for priority listing, and those who simply can’t.
To be clear, the Meta example, at least based on this early image, is seemingly not a priority placement in the same way that comments from X Premium subscribers show up higher in reply streams, and how Snapchat+ users get higher placement in Community Stories responses.
Meta doesn’t appear to be giving subscribers higher levels of exposure, as such, it would just enable users to separate subscriber replies out from all others. What they do from there is up to the individual, though the impetus would seemingly be that you could then give these users higher priority.
Meta did actually experiment with increased reach for Meta Verified profiles in the initial iteration of the program, but it dropped that provision very quickly. Meta hasn’t explained why, but it has added some new expanded exposure benefits into its Verification for Business package, which costs $US21 per month, and is currently being tested in New Zealand.
So even if this isn’t a direct reach benefit, as such, Meta has been experimenting with this element.
Which seems somewhat counter-intuitive, especially when you also consider that fewer people are now posting to social apps, and as such, any de-prioritization of their comments is likely to act as a disincentive, not the other way around.
On X, for example, 80% of its users use the platform in “read only mode”, as X itself has confirmed. Meta has also reported that while overall time spent in its apps is on the rise (primarily due to more people spending more time watching AI-recommended Reels), creation and engagement is declining, with fewer people posting to both Facebook and Instagram than they have in the past.
People these days are more likely to find content in social apps, then share it via DMs with smaller groups of friends. They’re not posting their daily updates like they used to, and with the novelty of public sharing wearing off, social apps are gradually evolving to become more entertainment-focused platforms.
Within that, I can only imagine that non-subscribers will be even less motivated to post, knowing that it’ll now even less likely to be seen.
Maybe, for a small amount of users, extra exposure will act as an incentive, but given that most people never post anyway, you’re really just giving them another reason not to bother.
And that’s before you consider the people who simply can’t pay, and will now have their voices de-prioritized as a result.
The great promise of social media was of a “global town square”, a place where anyone, from anywhere, would be able to interact with celebrities and world leaders, all on an even playing field. Building in financial barriers limits that, and while the ideals of the medium have been somewhat eroded over time, the push to monetize engagement seems like a backwards step, which will only work to further restrict conversation.
But as Elon says, it’s the only way that he can think of to disincentivize bots, and get ahead of the coming AI bot flood.
There are no easy answers on that either, which could mean that, maybe, we actually do have to charge, and restrict the conversation either way.
But selling verification devalues the concept, while selling reach shrinks the scope of participation.
Surely those are both equally significant considerations.