Facebook have come under fire this week after they admitted trying out an experiment with their news feed in order to gauge if “exposure to emotions led people to change their own posting behaviours”. In other words, seeing if sad content encourages sad content.
It has resulted in a bit of a backfire, with a rather over zealous MP calling for an investigation into the matter, people claiming that it touches on a “wider failure in ethics, power and consent on platforms” and others just being downright offended at the study.
It makes me uncomfortable to think that my internet activity is being closely monitored, but let’s face it – Facebook aren’t the only ones at it. I doubt ANYTHING I’ve done on the internet in the last few years has failed to be recorded somewhere for further analysis, and I’m pretty sure I’ve been manipulated at some point (I own a set of poached egg pods and I don’t even like poached eggs).
Behavioural targeting isn’t new, it’s used everywhere.
Google customise adverts with the most appealing content based on search behaviour (a hard lesson learned by an MP last year, who complained when dating adverts popped up as he was reading a political press release).
Amazon recommend products based on your buying and browsing patterns.
Tesco send you coupons based on analysis of your previous purchases.
Target even knows you’re pregnant before you do!
I’ve used behavioural marketing in previous jobs, and I expect I’ll be doing it at some point in the future.
It’s so easy to track people’s behaviour, the natural next step is to nudge the user towards the behaviour you desire.
Facebook, as usual, are ahead of the curve.
Or are they?
Showing people something in order for them to feel an emotion?
That John Lewis Christmas advert that got us all weepy and sentimental over a bear and a rabbit? Emotional manipulation. You don’t see an MP calling for an investigation into that.
I don’t like the idea of being an unwitting participant in an experiment, even if they claim the data collected was anonymous, but it’s not as big an issue as people are making out.
Whenever Facebook make a change, people go crazy. The venom and self-importance that spills out is unbelievable.
How DARE they change the layout of your free, non-mandatory profile page! How DARE they try to make money out of you while you use their fast, helpful, interesting website all day, every day! What are they THINKING?!?
Facebook is not a mandatory service where you are forced at gunpoint to upload your family photos, share your suspicions about the neighbour secretly feeding your cat, or check in to your “bed” (Every. Single. Night.).
You choose to use a free service. Sure, give them feedback on what you like and don’t like. Just remember: as public limited companies, the only people they are answerable to are their stakeholders. They want to make you happy so you stay and make them money, but you don’t really have the control.
And that’s ok.
You accepted those terms and conditions, even if you didn’t read them properly.
If you’re not happy with Facebook using your data and displaying it in a way of their choosing, don’t use Facebook. It’s really simple!
When Facebook say they’ve been experimenting with news feeds, that’s their prerogative. MPs calling for an investigation into the experiment, as if it will somehow change the face of society by filtering more depressing or exciting stories on a news feed of a website? It’s ridiculous.
Surely MPs have much more pressing matters to worry about? After all, they’re the ones who are answerable to us, not Facebook!