When I go to Google and do a search, it is clear to me which links are sponsored and which are most relevant (or best at optimizing their content for search engines). I like that because it is transparent what is advertising and what isn’t and I can choose for myself if one is more relevant than the other.
And sometimes the sponsored link is the most relevant. Happy days.
Google is a search engine, a corporation, and the fact that they have sponsored links is fine with me because they have to make money and anyway they are transparent about it.
Social media, like StumbleUpon and Digg, social media sites combining social bookmarking, blogging, and syndication with democratic editorial control that feature news articles, blog posts, and websites that are nominated by users and then promoted to the front page through user ranking and votes, are supposed to be entirely democratic. Nominations and rankings are supposed to come from “the people.”
Which is a nice idea and all…but easily open to tampering with.
Subvert and Profit allows advertisers to “buy” votes in an effort to get their website or product page featured on the front page of StumbleUpon or Digg. Advertisers can buy as money votes as they can afford at $1 a vote and Subvert and Profit will then pay $.50 a vote to each of their “voters” who vote for all of the sites and articles they are told to vote for.
There are harder ways to make money.
Of course, both StumbleUpon and Digg frown on this sort of activity and there is the chance that users who attempt to subvert and profit will be shown the door, though Subvert and Profit has strategies to “minimize the risk.”
Is this wrong or even immoral, as the blog Erica de Wolf asks? It is wrong insofar as the social media sites don’t allow it, but immoral? No.
It is going to endanger the social media model because, if I find out that corporations are just buying the top ranking instead of it being this great democratic choice, then those sites are of no use to me. I feel disgusted at how I have been sold.
There is a way out, however. Just post “sponsored” links that advertisers can buy next to the ones that have been democratically chosen, crack down hard on operations like Subvert and Profit, and keep it transparent.