In Facebook’s defense, let’s just start out by saying that by agreeing to Facebook’s Data Use Policy, which you must do to access the social network, you are actively giving permission to Facebook to include you in these kinds of psychological experiments.
Now I’m going to rant.
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, stated in a first public interview since the emotion experiment was made public, that it was communicated, “poorly.”
That’s an understatement.
The secret study was done in March of 2014 and the results were published on June 2nd. The experiment showed that people produced more negative Facebook posts and fewer positive posts when the news feed algorithm was tweaked to produce fewer positive posts. Contrarily, scientists then reduced the number of negative posts, which in turn, led to more positive posts from individuals. The idea to keep the secret experiment a secret, revealed interesting aspects of human behavior in response to external stimuli. This would be the equivalent to having a fire heated branding iron infused on your forehead with the word, “SUCKER” on it. If users had been aware of the experiment, the human behaviors may have been altered. This would have produced expletives, blogs and keyboards would have caused five alarm fires, and people would have lit up Facebook’s news-feeds with phrases like, Here we go again. Facebook is screwing around with my security and making me feel like I’m being manipulated.
Don’t be surprised folks; you are always being manipulated. It’s the Internet.
You remember the childhood rhyme, “Three Blind Mice,” don’t you?
Three blind mice.
Three blind mice.
See how they run.
See how they run.
They all ran after the farmer’s wife,
Who cut off their tails with a carving knife,
Did you ever see such a sight in your life,
As three blind mice?
Ironically, it is 700,000 unaware (blind) Facebook users and the farmer’s wife is Sheryl Sandberg–trying to cut off the tails of these users by making them sad or putting the carving knife away to keep them happy–all by the simple manipulation of what you see on your news-feed.
Frankly stated, this probably isn’t the first time Facebook has done a secret experiment of this nature considering they are constantly changing how their news-feeds come across your computer screen, switching their interface around to make it more “user friendly,” as well as the everlasting questions of, “Do you want to tag this person?” Or possibly, “You may be interested in this..”(showing similar items on your news-feed to pages you’ve recently liked).
Facebook has a team of scientists and psychologists who, since 2012, have made it their full time job to find out what makes its users tick; or get pissed off. Their goal is to examine social behavior in order to make more money for people who advertise and invest in Facebook.
If this were manipulation about the outcome of an election, I would have thought for a split second I was living in Iran. Today, however, this recent issue is about access to an unprecedented amount of data–personal data. And, what makes it even worse to everyone who uses Facebook–especially for those 700,000 blind mice–was that they agreed to it.
On Facebook’s Terms of Service, there is the fine print and warning screens that are not read by many individuals, including myself. I mean, you just want to hang out with your friends, ya know? But, Facebook is constantly in our faces about their privacy practices; this includes 18 pages on their Terms of Service to let you know what those privacy practices are.
Since there is already wariness about what Facebook does with what we type on our accounts, it’s a no-brainer that people would think they are being taken advantage of. What many need to keep in mind, however is that users like you and me think that they’re the customers. In reality, Facebook’s customers are their advertisers and we, the manipulative, wary, yet still-using-Facebook-user have become the product. We are producing the data for those advertisers.