‘This Is Official’
The rumors take the form of a variety of chain messages that have been spreading through status updates and email. “This is official,” reads one. “It was even on the news. Facebook will start charging due to the new profile changes.” That message goes on to say that, if the message is copied onto the user’s Facebook wall, the company icon will turn blue and “Facebook will be free for you.”
Another such message indicates the specifics about the “price grid for membership.” It says the company will be charging $9.99 monthly for gold membership, $6.99 for silver, $3.99 for bronze, but no charge if the message is copied and pasted “before midnight tonight.”
These are not the first rumors that Facebook will be charging for membership. Snopes.com, a site dedicated to factually verifying or dismissing myths and rumors, declares unequivocally on its site that the rumor is false. They list eight previous versions of this rumor, which they encountered via email, going back to December of 2009.
The initial hoax, Snopes said, was a malware attack. When users went to an alleged protest page, “clicking on certain elements of it initiated a script that hijacked users’ computers,” Snopes said. Snopes added that, when users did click on the page link, their computer was “taken over by a series of highly objectionable images while malware simultaneously attempted to install itself onto their computers.”
‘Fertile Ground for Rumors’
Snopes noted that some of the later rumor versions similarly led to malware, and, by asking users to avoid a fee by posting the message on their walls, sought members’ help in spreading the rumor. It pointed out that, if Facebook wanted to charge, why would the site exempt some users?
The new rumors come on the heels of a wide range of changes to the Profile page, and the addition of a variety of features. The changes, including a new Timeline feature, a real-time stream called Ticker, a deeper integration of apps, and the offering of a wide range of “listen, watch, read” options, were announced Thursday at the company’s f8 developers conference in San Francisco.
However, since it’s likely that few members have yet had the time to absorb the changes, the rumors are apparently trying to fill in the anxiety about the changes with the specter of membership fees.
Andrew Frank, research director for Gartner, said that he doubted there was anything Facebook could do to prevent these kinds of rumors from happening. He noted that, “by its nature, Facebook is fertile ground for rumors.”
The best thing the company can do, Frank added, is to “get out in front of them and deny them as quickly as possible,” without publicizing them too much.