A persistent rumor states that Facebook will begin charging for access to the website. One variant also claims that Twitter will also begin charging for its services. Despite categorical denials by officials whenever the rumor surfaces, rumors of "membership fees" have resurfaced several times over the past few years. Today we look closer at this long-running rumor.
Facebook and Twitter have no plans to charge users.
The first major “outbreak” of this rumor occurred back in 2012, when a graphic circulated stating there would be a three-tiered subscription service offered for access to Facebook – but it claimed that any users who shared the graphic would not be charged. Despite heavy sharing of this graphic, it turned out to be a hoax. Many readers even seemed to know that the rumor was incorrect, yet shared the graphic “just in case.”
In 2014, the “Facebook charging” rumor resurfaced when a fake news website published an article that Facebook would begin charging $2.99 a month beginning November 1. In late 2014, another version began circulating which also claimed Twitter would begin charging. That is also false (see below)
Below are the 2012 and 2014 variants in more detail.
May 2012 Variant
In early 2012, there was speculation from sources like CNET that Facebook may begin offering paid services, such as highlighted status updates, as was tested in New Zealand in a program called “Pay to Promote.” That feature was never implemented for users, but a variation was introduced for Facebook brand pages. It was intended to be a paid add-on feature rather than a blanket fee for all users as the rumors suggested. This high-profile speculation, perhaps fueled in part by the tests in New Zealand, came just ahead of the Facebook stock offering in May 2012. Some observers were of the opinion that Facebook may have considered more creative ways to generate revenue in the months just after the stock went public.
In early 2012, tabloid rag Weekly World News posted an alarmist article about Facebook charging fees. It was a fictional story, but it was heavily shared by irate or concerned Facebook users.
Around that time, the ubiquitous 2012 rumor began circulating heavily online. One version of the rumor read as follows:
FACEBOOK JUST RELEASED THEIR PRICE GRID FOR MEMBERSHIP. $9.99 PER MONTH FOR GOLD MEMBER SERVICES, $6.99 PER MONTH FOR SILVER MEMBER SERVICES, $3.99 PER MONTH FOR BRONZE MEMBER SERVICES, FREE IF YOU COPY AND PASTE THIS MESSAGE BEFORE MIDNIGHT TONIGHT. WHEN YOU SIGN ON TOMORROW MORNING YOU WILL BE PROMPTED FOR PAYMENT INFO…IT IS OFFICIAL IT WAS EVEN ON THE NEWS. FACEBOOK WILL START CHARGING DUE TO THE NEW PROFILE CHANGES. IF YOU COPY THIS ON YOUR WALL YOUR ICON WILL TURN BLUE AND FACEBOOK WILL BE FREE FOR YOU. PLEASE PASS THIS MESSAGE ON IF NOT YOUR ACCOUNT WILL BE DELETED IF YOU DO NOT PAY I DONT KNOW (HOW TRUE THIS IS BUT WHAT THE HECK DONT HURT ANYTHING SO I DID IT…)
In June 2012, we spotted another variant, as worded below:
********IT IS OFFICIAL. IT WAS EVEN ON THE NEWS. FACEBOOK WILL START CHARGING. DUE TO BEING PUBLICLY TRADED ENTITY. IF YOU COPY THIS ON YOUR WALL YOUR ICON WILL TURN GOLD AND FACEBOOK WILL BE FREE FOR YOU FOREVER. PLEASE PASS THIS MESSAGE ON, IF NOT YOUR ACCOUNT WILL BE DISABLED IF YOU DO NOT PAY.***********
The two 2012 variants above were not true, and Facebook never made any such announcements. Eventually the rumor faded as word spread that Facebook had no such plans to charge for access to the website.
September 2014 Version
Rumors about Facebook charging for its services once again spread online after the fake news website National Report published a story that users would be charged $2.99 a month beginning November 1. The fake story includes phony quotes from Mark Zuckerberg and other experts. The article includes an embedded video, which was also created by National Report (“NRTV”) and simply restates the same information contained in the fake report.
National Report publishes fake news in the name of satire. In the past it has posted a disclaimer that its content is “satire,” although that disclaimer has been removed on several occasions.
October 2014 Version
In late 2014, yet another version of the rumor above began circulating on social media circles. This variant claimed that Facebook would begin charging 50 cents per post, and 99 cents for any post containing a link. It further claims that Twitter also announced plans to begin charging 55 cents for every tweet. Vine and Instagram were also planning to begin charging in the near future, the article states.
This particular post, however, was published by the fake news website Huzlers, which has posted several viral stories in recent months. A cursory glance at the website’s “About Us” reveals that it describes itself as “a combination of real shocking news and satirical entertainment.”
The article is completely fictional.
Facebook and Twitter have not announced plans to charge for their services. The rumor spread heavily in 2012 due to speculation about tests Facebook ran for paid services, along with its high profile IPO. In 2014, the rumor resurfaced after the fake news website National Report published a story that Facebook would begin charging users on November 1, 2014. Twitter was added to the rumor in late October 2014 in a fake report by “satire” website Huzlers.
If you look at Facebook’s landing page when you’re logged out, it has stated for years that, “It’s free and always will be.”
Originally published May 16, 2012.
Updated October 26, 2014