The latest way that Facebook has been peeking into its users’ personal lives may be the most surprising yet: Facebook researches have published a scientific paper that reveals the company has been conducting psychological experiments on its users to manipulate their emotions.
The experiments sought to prove the phenomenon of “emotional contagion” — as in, whether you’ll be more happy if those in your Facebook news feed are. They took place over the week of January 11th-18th, 2012, and targeted 689,003 English-speaking Facebook users.
The study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. was successful. It found that, indeed, manipulating the algorithm to show more “positive” posts in your news feed will actually inspire you to write more “positive” posts yourself. So, for example, if you see a lot of people happy about their jobs or excited to be seeing the concert of their favorite band, then you’re more likely to post that you are happy about something in your life, too.
While that little fact in itself may be interesting, there’s one disturbing aspect of the study: None of the people involved in the experiment were explicitly told that they would be a part of it.
“As such,” the researchers write, “it was consistent with Facebook’s Data Use Policy, to which all users agree prior to creating an account on Facebook, constituting informed consent for this research.”
People have long been familiar with the double-edged sword of using Facebook: The social network may be useful for staying in touch with your friends, but Facebook can find out who you are from your data — information as specific as where you went on vacation or what movie you went to see on a given Friday night.
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operations officer, explained recently what the company aims to do with the massive amounts of data it collects from users. “Our goal is that every time you open News Feed, every time you look at Facebook, you see something, whether it’s from consumers or whether it’s from marketers, that really delights you, that you are genuinely happy to see,” she said.
The company doesn’t just hang onto that data or use it for research. It also gives other entities access to it. Sometimes it’s for something as banal as a targeted advertisement. Other times, data on users can be handed over for intelligence agency investigations, or to an insurance company.
While users may have some awareness of the terms they’ve agreed to when signing up, they aren’t fully aware of what their information is being used for. A Consumer Reports survey, for example, found that “only 37 percent of Facebook users say they have used the site’s privacy tools to customize how much information apps are allowed to see.” Those third parties are one of the biggest collectors of data. And, the report explains, this touches everyone, not just those who don’t change their app settings. “Even if you have restricted your information to be seen by friends only, a friend who is using a Facebook app could allow your data to be transferred to a third party without your knowledge.”
“There’s a burden on the individual to get educated, but there’s also a burden on the companies,” Dr. Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, told ThinkProgress earlier this year. “We’re not all lawyers, we’re not all IT guys,” she said.
At the risk of appearing a cold-hearted bitch, I'm posting this video. I have a friend who became a dedicated activist with the loss of her college-aged son, but that was far from her initial reaction. If you want to learn more about her story, read Peace Mom by Cindy Sheehan. Rushing around the country giving speeches just doesn't happen overnight. This guy was on TV pointing fingers at the NRA within hours of his son being killed. That doesn't fly with me. See if you agree.
Tomorrow marks the 47th anniversary of one of the worst acts of betrayal from our "best friend" in the Middle East, Israel. There is little doubt in my mind that this was an attempted false flag attack, meant to blame Egypt. It was only by the greatest of miracles this ship survived. Let us never forget.
I believe it's up to each and every one of us to contribute our own special talents to make this world a better place for all of us. I'm currently locked out of my political Twitter account (@jodypaulson), but I highly recommend @greentaralady for lighter, greener fare.
Grandfather, look at our brokenness. We know that in all creation only the human family has strayed from the sacred way. We know that we are the ones who are divided and we are the ones who must come back together to walk in the sacred way. Grandfather, sacred one, teach us love, compassion, and honor that we may heal the earth and heal each other.