Here we have yet another example of why we can’t have nice things.
Back in 2015, Facebook rolled out profile image frames, aligned with sports teams initially, which gave users a simple, customized way to share their support for their favorite team in the app. Facebook expanded on that over the coming years, and opened up the capacity for users to create their own frames and at one stage, there were thousands of potential options for profile frames available via its Frames Gallery in the app.
But that all changed over the last year.
Following Facebook’s decision to ban anti-vaccine messaging in its apps in late 2020, some activists switched to profile frames instead, creating anti-vax statements that could be shared via your main Facebook image.
CNBC found a rising number of these anti-vaccine frames, and alerted Facebook accordingly, which first began removing the offending frames from its Frames Gallery one by one. Then it removed all of its frames entirely, except for those from approved partners, while it also shut down the capacity for people to create their own frames via its Frame Studio tool.
If you’ve noticed a lot fewer profile frames on Facebook of late, this would be why – and now, parent company Meta is moving to officially tighten its restrictions on profile frame creation, with new regulations on the creation and use of such across the app.
“Last year, we limited the ability to create profile frames on Facebook to authoritative organizations. We’re continuing that work now, so that Profile frames from unapproved Pages and profiles can no longer be applied to new profile pictures. On March 21, only profile frames from certain government services or organizations and those providing authoritative information on COVID-19 will be available. This change reflects our continued emphasis on helping people express their support around important issues like voting and reliable health information.”
Again, nice things.
Meta says that only municipal, state and local agencies (including local election offices), municipal government agencies, emergency response agencies, public health agencies and local law enforcement will now be allowed to create profile frames.
“Authoritative sources on COVID-19 that will continue to have access to frames globally include organizations such as the World Health Organization, UNICEF, Centers for Disease Control, and national government agencies or ministries of health.”
So, basically, profile frames will now be cause-aligned specifically, and there’ll be no more fun, decorative frames, outside of some of the generic ones provided by Meta.
Which is a bit of a shame. It’s not a major functional change, and it won’t have a big impact on how people use Facebook, but still, it is a little sad that we lose an entire creative option because of a level of misuse, which, due to complexities in detection, Meta can’t simply weed out and police at scale.
Meta says that existing profile frames will be removed from the Frame Studio on March 21st. Organizations that currently have an active frame will be able to download their frame from Frame Studio till that date.
But basically, you can expect to see a lot fewer profile image frames in the app moving forward.
I guess, in theory, Meta could still look to use profile frames as a paid promotional option in future, under strict approval in each case, so we may still see more colorful, themed frames at some stage. But really, Meta’s probably more focused on its 3D avatars now anyway – and maybe, in that context, profile frames don’t serve any real purpose moving forward either way.
But it’s another impact of the pandemic – an unexpected one, but a forced change in process nonetheless.