Facebook has started a test scheme in which users will now be charged if they want to contact people outside of their friends list. The charges will range from 71p for a person who does not have a celebrity following, to around £11 for a famous person.
For example, a figure such as the BBC’s Robert Preston, who does not have a large fanbase would incur the 71p charge, but a better known celebrity, such as Olympic diving star Tom Daley would warrant a fee of £10.68.
The test scheme has been up and running in the U.S since last December, and now Facebook has rolled out the new charges to a further 36 countries, which includes the UK.
And unlike some rumours of charging from the social media network that have proved to be unfounded, this one was confirmed by Facebook.
A spokesperson said: “It is being tested among a very small percentage of users. There is no set timescale. It depends on what happens, what feedback we get as to whether it is rolled out nationally. We are testing a number of price points in the UK and other countries to establish the optimal fee that signals importance. This is still a test and these prices are not set in stone.”
Apparently the fees are calculated using various factors, which include the amount of followers the person has, and also Facebook have a secret “fame” algorithm to help with the charging structure.
There scheme is only being trialled in certain areas of the UK, so to see if you are one of the areas that are now facing charges, you could visit Tom Daley’s page and try to message him and see what happens.
Most people in the UK will still be able to send messages for free, as it is only 10% of UK users that are in the trial scheme.
Facebook said that they have launched the trial scheme for these type of ‘priority messages’ to stop users from being bombarded with unwanted contact from strangers and to keep down the amount of spam they receive. But they faced criticism yesterday, as their front page states that they are ‘Free and always will be’.
Peter Wood, social media director at digital marketing agency Steak, tweeted: ‘Facebook charging users in the UK to contact celebs online. 1-0 Twitter. Seems a bit mean to charge someone to send fan mail.’
There is currently a cap on the number of messages you can send to a celebrity, and under 18 year olds are barred from the scheme. Fees can be made with a credit of debit card, and if you want to still send a message you can for free, but it will go into another folder which Facebook say many people do not even know exists.
Stars at the top end of the charging scale of £10.68 include author Salman Rushdie, rap artist Snoop Dog, singer song writer Ed Sheeran, and Michael Rosen, former children’s laureate. Celebrities at the lower end of the scale of 71p include comics Bill Bailey and Miranda Hart, journalist Louis Theroux, health secretary Jeremy Hunt and Olympic cycling champion Laura Trott.
This is not the first time Facebook has levied charges for messaging, back in January they were heavily criticised for setting a $100 (£61) fee to contact founder Mark Zuckerberg. And Zuckerberg has previously stated that he would want Facebook messaging eventually to become a viable alternative to email.
So is the pricing structure an indication of how famous you are? Iain Mackenzie, a spokesman for Facebook Europe, thinks not: “There’s not a sliding scale based on fame. You can’t infer someone’s level of ‘celebrity’ from the numbers,” he said.