Facebook's Terms of Service have come into question recently in light of Facebook's Branded Content update this week (2016) and the ensuing hysteria in the world of bloggers and influencers who've been using Facebook's platform to turn a profit. I think it is important to the Branded Content discussion to understand Facebook's Terms of Service.
I will preface this by saying I am not a lawyer. You should not consider this legal advice. You must read the terms of service for your account yourself.
So, what are Facebook's Terms of Service?
Facebook terms: “By using or accessing the Facebook Services, you agree to this Statement, as updated from time to time in accordance with Section 13 below.” Taken from their Terms of Service (TOS) here>> https://www.facebook.com/legal/terms
And in #2 below that statement you agree that: “You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings.”
Further down the page it states that you agree that “Your continued use of the Facebook Services, following notice of the changes to our terms, policies or guidelines, constitutes your acceptance of our amended terms, policies or guidelines.”
Are Facebook's Terms misleading?
The above mentioned sections of the service agreement you agreed to when you opened your account is how Facebook is claiming that bloggers and influencers have been in violation of their terms of service by promoting branded content on non-blue-verified pages.
According to this, when you opened an account on facebook (account, including your personal profile and any pages, groups or events that are under that account) you agreed that “you own all of the content you post to Facebook”.
Therefore, if you’ve been paid by a 3rd party company to post content about their product that is content you do not own, you’re in violation of the TOS. If you create a post about your friend’s blog post or new ebook, you are sharing content you do not own and are therefore in violation of the TOS.
It's pretty clear.
It's also clear that Facebook has not been enforcing the agreement, and even clearer with the recent branded content policy update that they do intend to enforce it from here on out.
According to Facebook's policies, the ONLY way to get around this and post branded content (that is not your own) and is not a paid Facebook ad is to have your page “blue verified”.
Q: What is a blue verified page on Facebook?
A: A verified Page or Profile (with grey or blue tick) means that “Facebook confirmed that this is the authentic Page or profile for this public figure, media company, brand, business or organization” (source).
In regards to posting branded content on personal profile: “It’s against the Facebook Terms to use your personal account to represent something other than yourself (ex: your business)”(source). That is why you need a Page for your blog or your business.
“Branded content on Pages is only allowed from Verified Pages (with the blue badge) on Facebook and must adhere to (Facebook's) policies.” (source)
Q: How do I get a verified page on Facebook?
A: You may not have a Facebook page, event or group unless you first have a Facebook account and profile. Pages, events and groups are attached to your personal account/profile and a part of it. In order to open a Facebook account you have to agree to their Terms of Service (TOS). Step by step instructions (and a printable checklist) to verify your page can be found here.
Q: What about the Share button Facebook provides on each post?
A: I believe the “share” button was the way Facebook intended sharing to be done all along.
A share of your friend’s post about her new ebook or blog post using the “share” button is a “share” of her content, it is not you “posting” content and would not be a violation of the TOS for your account.
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What about groups?
Q: Can't I just continue to share branded content in groups as I had been doing previously on my page? The branded content policy doesn't say anything about groups.
A: This is problematic for those of us previously thinking we could continue to post affiliate links and articles in groups to get around the “branded content on pages policy.” According to the TOS – the agreement you signed to have the privilege of a Facebook account at all, you are agreeing that everything you “post” on your account (including profile, pages, events and groups) is your own content (owned and/or created by you).
On this page, a Facebook rep states that “There are no regulations on sharing advertisement-style posts within a group at this time. It is prohibited, however, to post anything that violates our Community Standards listed here: https://www.facebook.com/communitystandards/?ref=u2u “.
According to Facebook’s TOS we must assume that the definition of those “advertisement-style posts” in groups must also be only your own content, or else shared to the group from the content owner using the share button on their post.
According to the Facebook TOS, you can continue to “share” other people’s content, posts, products that they post using the “share”, “share to timeline” or “share to a group” button , but you cannot create a new post about their content because you do not own their content.
Q: What about Affiliate Links?
A: I would exercise caution as well in sharing affiliate links and MLM/direct sales, unless (as in the case of Amazon) they have worked with Facebook to provide a way for you to share directly to your facebook page. (source)
And of course you'll need to include the proper FTC disclosure anytime an affiliate or referral link is shared with someone whether on social media, your blog or elsewhere. Linking from Facebook to your blog post about the product, where readers can leave Facebook to go to your platform and there find the affiliate link to the product you wish to promote is also an option.
Q: What about ads?
A: As an unverified, or verified grey page you may still create a Facebook ad by going through the normal process of creating and purchasing the ad from Facebook (source), and by documenting your relationship to the product per FTC regulations, which I believe was Facebook's intention all along.
Facebook was created as a social platform. You're allowed to advertise/promote your own things on your account for free, but if you want to promote something you don't own it's considered advertisement for that product, person, or service and Facebook wants to be paid for advertising that happens on it's platform.
So what do we do now?
Quite simply, do as you've agreed to do.
Only post personal stuff on your personal profile. Only post business stuff on your business page. Only create new posts on your page about content, products and services that you created and/or own. Only share other's content using Facebook's share buttons. If you want to sell on Facebook, sell your own stuff, pay for Facebook ads, or lead people to the products outside of Facebook's platform. If you want people to share about your stuff, create a post on your page and ask friends to share your post using the share button.
Creating a group is also a great way to continue to provide value to your readers and to build community. I'll be sharing more about how to do that in a future post. The important thing is to be sure you know and abide by Facebook's TOS in your group as well. And realize that there may come a day when Facebook changes the TOS for groups and/or begins to charge for them. Have a back up plan. Lead people to your site and to your email list.
Knowing you've been doing things wrong is a hard pill to swallow, for you and for me, especially when it was in a legal agreement you signed without reading it through and understanding. But now that it's been brought to our attention, we can make changes going forward.
I still believe Facebook is “in it for the money”, and that this policy and it's enforcement is a way for Facebook to better control ads and ad revenue. But aren't we all in some way, in business for the money? Don't we all have to make decisions for our business based on the bottom line?
Admitting you've not been enforcing a policy is hard. I applaud Facebook for taking a stand and backing up their written policy going forward. I can appreciate a company that will back up their written policy much more than one who doesn't have the backbone to enforce what's written or change it to reflect what they're actually willing to enforce.
So, now the ball is in your court. What will be your next play?
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I really wish we could schedule shared. I think that’s why many of us make our own posts for others’ content. I’d like to spread my sharing throughout the day without having to be on FB each time.
I agree. That would be a really cool feature.
Donna Hull says
You are so right, Virginia. Being able to schedule shares would solve a lot of this problem. My FB page audience appreciates the curated content that I share with them from my niche. If all we do is post our own stuff, it will become boring quickly because I don’t know anyone who is interesting enough to carry it on their own content, even celebrities.
I read the legal pages of Facebook that you shared. However, I can’t figure out if we can share our personal website from the business we distribute for. I may have my legal team look at it and let me know what they think.
Affiliate links, MLM and direct sales are still a bit of a grey area. In one sense, at least in the case of a distributor, it is “your business”, but in the other sense it is products you did not create and do not own, so… not sure what to tell you.
Melanie Wilson says
Katie, I may be reading this policy change differently. For example, when I read that I have to own the content, I believe I DO own the content I am sharing, even when it’s a sponsored post. The only situation that could affect me as I’m reading it is if I am sharing a company’s post word-for-word. For example, if a company I’m an affiliate for provides me with a post for my blog or a post on Facebook, then I wouldn’t be allowed to share that. I could also see it if I were being paid to post to Facebook, which I have not been. Is there any more information that clarifies the issue of what is OUR content?
That’s the difficult thing Melanie. The TOS does not define what is our content other than “content the we own” as you saw in the screen shot.