More twisted knickers than a washing line in a gale this week. Apparently some headshrinking corporate types have been experimenting on some of Facebook’s 500 million users. Simply put, they wanted to see if being exposed to happy (or sad) stories would subconsciously make a user more likely to publish happy (or sad) stories of their own. They did this using complex pattern recognition of happy (or sad) words. Many people are appalled at this. I am not, and here are some reasons.
1. You told them they could
Remember the last time you registered for something and had to go through the laborious task of giving it your username, your email address, and ticking the little box marked “terms of service” (which of course may as well be marked “hurry the fuck up and let me into the site already”)? That’d be the part where you gave expressed written consent for Zuckerberg to look up your skirt any time you bend over to pick something up within 500 yards of the internet for the rest of your life. From Facebook’s ToS :
We give your information to the people and companies that help us provide, understand and improve the services we offer. For example, we may use outside vendors to help host our website, serve photos and videos, process payments, analyze data, conduct and publish research, measure the effectiveness of ads, or provide search results. In some cases we provide the service jointly with another company, such as the Facebook Marketplace. In all of these cases our partners must agree to only use your information consistent with the agreement we enter into with them, as well as this Data Use Policy.
Bored? Did you bother to actually read it all? Of course not, and that’s probably someone else’s fault, isn’t it.
2. You haven’t realised what they’ve been doing.
The howling and gnashing of teeth that’s been going on simply comes down to Facebook allowing researchers to change what you see in order to evoke an emotional response and measure your reaction. Would anyone like to have a wild guess at what the word for this is? Science? Yes, technically it uses the scientific method, but it’s a bit closer to home than that. Marketing? Yes, that’s right, every advertisement you’ve ever consumed has attempted to lap you in the face with information to evoke an emotional response, usually to try and convince you to buy a car, snack or government. But hang on, we hate marketing people and love scientists! I’m confused! Let me make it worse.
Know what ELSE you call it when someone expresses an idea with the intention of evoking emotion and drawing a reaction? Art. So tell me again, what was it these guys did that was so wrong?
3. ETHICS! GRAARRRRGH!
Oh it’s the ethical ambiguity, is it? Ethics doesn’t apply to gigantic corporations. Ethical choices are for people. Business aren’t bound the same way, especially large ones. Corporations (and in the eyes of some, the nation state) exist to justify actions that aren’t ethical at an individual level. There’s a word for business ethics, and it’s “regulation”. We have regulation to keep businesses from completely disappearing into a mire of profitability at any ethical cost, and while that doesn’t sound very palatable, it’s simply the truth. Dealing with large institutions – social networking and advertising megacorps included – becomes a lot simpler when you realise that their “ethical” decisions are driven by the market and as such are a force of nature. Would you scream at the river that flooded and ruined your home, or would you say that maybe the local chiefs could have put a dam there?
4. This isn’t even the half of it
How many FB friends do you have? It’s in the hundreds, right? And yet it seems to be the same few heads that keep popping up. Why? Because Facebook already alters who you see based on recent interactions, frequency of interactions, friends in common, age of posts and surely a host of other things that I don’t fully understand. Not sure that this is true? Find someone in your friends list that you haven’t communicated with, been tagged in a photo with, or anythinged with on FB in a while. Now have a quick flick through their profile pictures album. I’ll be damned sideways if you don’t suddenly see them spontaneously pop up on your feed soon, even if they haven’t in months. Not only that, but i’m pretty sure that YOU’LL pop up on THEIRS. All those apps that claim they can tell you who’s viewing your profile? Wait for someone to breeze in that hasn’t in a while and there’s your answer.
If seeing posts by people makes you feel…well, anything at all, then this experiment has already been proven to work, hasn’t it? Again, changing what you see to evoke a response.
So for those that honestly thought before now that Facebook’s administration and publication of your photos, diary, correspondence and consumer habits was just something that some nice people did for the fun of it because they loved you, I hope this has been the gigantic kick in the side of the head that you so very badly needed. The sooner you realise that the gigantic evil scary corporations
- Don’t care about you
- Aren’t interested in your data at a human level
- Really don’t give a fuck what you think or say
- Are just in it for the money
- Are pretty fucking useful, given the lack of cost for the user,
Then we can all get back to the day to day business of discussing every aspect of our lives through one-liners and a button marked “share”.