With Facebook's 'Highlight' Feature, You Could Pay To Be Popular

With Facebook's 'Highlight' Feature, You Could Pay To Be Popular

Feel like no one's listening to you on Facebook? Now you can pay them to pay attention.

On average, just 16 percent of your Facebook friends see your status updates. But Facebook is testing a new feature that would help you ensure more friends see your party photos, relationship status update, witticisms and links -- though it could cost you.

Earlier this year, Facebook introduced an advertising tool, Reach Generator, that allowed brands to pay to promote their posts and ensure they reached a wider audience than they would have otherwise.

Now, as TechCrunch and Stuff first reported, Facebook's "Highlight" tool, which has been rolled out to a fraction of Facebook's userbase, gives individuals the opportunity to boost the visibility of certain status updates, though they may be charged to do so.

A Facebook spokesperson declined to specify how much the social network was charging users to promote their posts via the Highlight tool, but noted that they are testing a range of prices, including a free version. A screenshot of the Highlight feature posted on Stuff indicates Facebook may charge you $2.00 to showcase an "important post." Users can choose to promote a certain status update, though they don't have the option of choosing the exact percentage of Facebook friends will see it (No, you can't make all 694 friends see how great you looked on vacation).

"We're constantly testing new features across the site," a Facebook spokeswoman told The Huffington Post in an email. "This particular test is simply to gauge people’s interest in this method of sharing with their friends."

This particular test also has the potential to fundamentally change the nature of what we see on Facebook and why. Currently, Facebook's algorithm determines what mix of posts appear in your News Feed using cues such as how many other friends have "liked" the update and commented on it, or how close you are the person posting the news. Advertising aside, it's more or less a meritocracy. If lots of people love a story, you're more likely to see it in your News Feed.

The Highlight tool could perhaps transform that meritocracy into a system that rewards the richest (and most narcissistic). In a post-Highlight world, the friends who get the most visibility on Facebook wouldn't necessarily be the most engaging ones, just the ones with some spare cash to spend. Already, it often feels an awful lot like our friends are marketing themselves to us via their social media sharing. Highlight could make those updates even more like advertisements.

TechCrunch notes that "highlighted" posts "[are] not colored differently to make them stand out," but, since we haven't seen them, it's not clear yet whether there's any indication which updates were purposefully promoted (we've reached out to Facebook to clarify). I, for one, would love to see a disclaimer showing which posts have been "highlighted." It would be fascinating to know what aspects of their lives my friends deemed fit to pay to promote, and which they didn't. Would their book deal take precedence over their baby's birth? Would they shell out cash to show photos of their new house? Or just for stories they've written? Or to promote a charity? (UPDATE: A Facebook spokesperson confirmed that highlighted posts will include the tag "highlighted" next to the "like" and "comment" buttons.)

Have you seen Highlight? Send us screenshots (technology@huffingtonpost.com) if you have. And weigh in on highlight below.

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