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Facebook Marketplace opens with drugs, guns, and babies

MoneyWatch 10/5
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If you open an Internet site to the public, how long before the lowest common denominator shows up? As Facebook (FB) found out this week, the answer isn’t days, but hours.

Shortly after opening its new Marketplace section, Facebook was hosting ads offering all sorts of illicit and strange items for sale. Some were clearly jokes (such as a posting for a £5 note for $10, when the exchange rate values the British banknote at about $6.40) but others advertised illicit products such as drugs and human babies, as well as guns and animals, ranging from birds to baby hedgehogs.

The rocky rollout isn’t an auspicious start to Facebook’s latest attempt to ramp up commerce, after trying to get a similar effort off the ground about a decade ago. Facebook may also face a natural resistance from its users, who view the service as a way to connect with friends, families and communities, rather than as a shopping site. Only about 1 out of 5 consumers said they’d be interested in purchasing items directly on Facebook, according to research from research company Aimia. 

For its part, Facebook blamed the illicit and odd postings on a “technical issue.”

“As we expanded Marketplace access, we encountered a technical issue that prevented our reviewing system from identifying some posts that violated our Commerce Policies and Community Standards,” said Mary Ku, director of Facebook’s product management, in a statement. “As a result, certain posts with content that violated our policies were made visible to people visiting Marketplace.”

Ku added that Facebook was working to fix the issue and would be “closely monitoring our systems to ensure we are properly identifying and removing violations before giving more people access to Marketplace.”

Even though only 1 out of 5 consumers said they would want to buy directly from Facebook, that’s a bigger share than many other social networks receive. Only one out of 10 said they wanted to shop via Twitter, for instance.

As for consumers who are looking for the Marketplace icon on their Facebook page or mobile app and can’t find it, that’s because Facebook is gradually rolling out the service over the next several days. The service will first appear on the mobile app, with Facebook planning to introduce the desktop version in the next few months.

Eventually, the Marketplace icon will replace the Messenger icon in the mobile app. The idea is to let consumers take photos of items they want to sell and post it to the Marketplace, where they can connect with buyers.

The Marketplace appears to be more akin to Craigslist than Amazon, in terms of approach and quality of products. So far, consumers don’t appear to be overly impressed by the service, with some expressing skepticism and confusion over the odd postings popping up the service. Still, given Facebook’s reach, it may only need to win over a small share of its consumer base to make the Marketplace successful.

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