Five reasons to be freaked out by the Facebook experiment

facebook experiment

By Mark Schaefer

Like most of the online world, I’m stunned by the Facebook experiment designed to surreptitiously toy with the emotions of its customers. But it goes beyond the simple shock value of a company manipulating people.

The news emerged that in 2012, Facebook conducted a study to determine whether it could alter the emotional state of its users. The company’s data scientists enabled an algorithm, for one week, to automatically omit content that contained words associated with either positive or negative emotions from the central news feeds of 689,003 users. They examined whether content from the subjects was more positive or negative based on the manipulated tone of the news feed.

There are broad reasons for concern that are deeper than what we see on the surface.

1. This was a corporate decision

I’m not a person who hates Facebook and is looking for a reason to ding them. I actually think it is understandable that Facebook wanted to conduct this kind of fundamental research.

However the rational decision would be to pay a university to get the same results under controlled and honest conditions. No company should ever make a decision to turn their customers into lab rats. The more disturbing issue is that Forbes reported that this research was approved by an internal Facebook review board. So this was not the case of a lone wolf embarassing the company. This breach reflects the dysfunctional corporate culture of Facebook. That makes my head spin.

2. Facebook is hiding behind legalese

At this moment, days after the furor erupted, Facebook has still not issued any apology. One of the researchers, Adam Kramer, created a Facebook post explaining the methodology and stating the impact on people as “minimal.”

Facebook justified the news feed mind game by saying it was covered by the company’s “Data Use Policy” (part of the terms and conditions nobody reads), which contains one cryptic line about how your information could be used for research. Christopher Penn did a nice job separating the difference between “legal” research and “ethical” research in his post about Facebook emotional testing.

So the message here is that the company will do whatever it wants as long they can cover their asses legally.**

3. They haven’t learned their lesson

Facebook’s arrogant approach to customers and privacy was so extreme that it was the subject of a U.S. Congressional investigation in 2012. They were found guilty, fined and subjected to 20 years of privacy audits by the goverment. The government essentially ruled that Facebook needs a babysitter. This Facebook experiment shows that the company still has the attitude and maturity of a petulant 5-year-old, doing whatever it wants unless it has adult supervison.

What if somebody was already experiencing depression and this experiment made them more depressed … even dangerously depressed? What is the probability that over 689,000 people that somebody was pushed into an inescapably dark place? Did they even THINK about the fact their “users” are real people who may already be suffering?

4. Its arrogance will be its undoing

Facebook made a terrible error in judgment. But it gets worse. It published the study in the March issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The message here is, “we screwed our customers and we also want to stroke our egos buy getting academic credit for it.” It put its ego above its customers.

Here’s the chilling thought: This is the only experiment we KNOW about because it was published.

5. Facebook: The world’s Valium?

One takeaway of the study was that taking all emotional content out of a person’s news feed caused a “withdrawal effect.” Facebook concluded that it should subject you to happy content to keep you coming back. The implication is that to increase usage (i.e. maximize profits through ads) Facebook must not just edit your news feed through Edgerank, it should tweak the emotional tone of its world like a digital Valium.

The actual experiment is only the tip of the iceberg. What are they going to DO with the results of this research? I doubt the answer is “nothing.”

Implications of the Facebook Experiment

One camp has emerged supporting Facebook, claiming that we are all subject to digital manipulation by every company and Facebook has the right to do whatever it pleases with its data. Some contend this is simply normal A/B testing conducted by any company involved with eCommerce. It is more complex than that. Intentionally making sad people sadder crosses an ethical line beyond the day to day work of improving a user experience.

Last year, before the Facebook IPO, I wrote a post called “Why Facebook Will Become the Most Dangerous Company on Earth.” The premise was that with the unrelenting pressure to increase profits — every quarter without end — the company eventually would be forced to use its only real asset, our personal information, in increasingly bold and risky ways.

I think this is proving to be true.

The implication of a strategy that disrespects customers is not just a temporary emotional furor. There is an economic implication, too. Facebook is the world’s dominant social network and its only significant threat is itself. Corporate arrogance is a sure path to self-destruction as history proves.

What are your thoughts on this experiment and its implications?

** I think you could make an argument that Facebook is NOT covered by their terms and conditions on this episode. The policy states that the company “Uses the information it receives about you … for internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement.” The word “research” was added to the terms and conditions four months after the experiment started. I think it is questionable that changing the data you see in an experiment fits under this data usage policy. Clicking a box on a website does not constitute informed consent.

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  • Kat Krieger

    Hey Mark, I agree that this was particularly egregious, but I (sadly) wasn’t even surprised. It seems perfectly in line with how they treat their customers. Yet I am a FB user, find this awful and DON’T leave. What does that say?

  • Now that last point…I would like to see a university / academic study on.

  • Chuck Kent

    Great overview of the situation, Mark. Like Kat Krieger , I find this awful, but am not leaving… yet. Perhaps we are all becoming too hooked on the “digital Valium” (a scarily on-the-Mark image)

  • Nichole_Kelly

    I think the privacy issues are very real here. Further, I’m really concerned about Facebook monitoring your non-Facebook activities which they disclosed in their last privacy update here. Additionally, with the friends nearby feature they are now tracking your GPS locations. This seems to have gone unnoticed by most, but when you combine them tweaking their algorithms, monitoring your off-site activity and tracking your GPS location it’s getting a little too much to handle in my opinion.

  • I’m definitely freaked out. And pissed. Especially since I posted something this morning on FB that mentioned this study and it has been “not delivered” to the newsfeed even 20 minutes later. Does anyone else watch “Continuum”? Are you watching the Supreme Court’s decisions today? What the heck can we do to stop this world from imploding around us? (For the record, here’s that FB post I mentioned:

  • Mia Sherwood Landau

    We run willingly, eagerly into the arms of Big Brother because it feels good to be there. It feels fun and we like that. We feel lost without that. The scariest thing is that the majority of users won’t care about the consequences to themselves, their children and even their employment. Not until it’s too late. Another spot-on post, Mark.

  • This is well thought out Mark.

    I think part of the problem is that in the paradigm they’ve built users are the product. That’s nothing new of course, but engineers largely create and run that product. Not thinkers, writers, philosophers, business leaders…engineers. I’m sure some people would respond and say, who cares, why would we need those disciplines – but that’s precisely the heart of the problem, what you’re describing is not sustainable because there isn’t a truly ethical framework involved. Manipulating users the way they do goes against everything that we’ve learned about collaboration, co-creating value, and a host of other realities of the web. It is going to undo them ultimately economically if they don’t fix it.

    Lastly, a story about Google to indicate the severity of the problem. When I moved to San Francisco last year I briefly did an Air BnB. The person I rented from was an engineer at a small firm, but his roommates were, respectively, a financial analyst for a huge firm, a Facebook engineer, and a Google engineer. The latter went to an Ivy league school, was infinitely smarter (conventionally) than I am, and pulled down 4-5x my salary. One night I came back from work, and he was describing a date to one of the roommates. The roommate asked “was she pretty?” to which he responded by showing her Facebook profile and said, “well, she was cute, but she wasn’t girlfriend cute.”

    I know that example might seem far off from the business questions you raise here, but it’s an indicator of the ethical and culture problem. This is someone in his 20s who has massive influence and power at the world’s largest data company, and he’s surfing someone’s Facebook profile and describing her as a product. Whether he is willfully a bad person or it was just ignorance I couldn’t say without knowing him better, though that type of objectification is misogynistic without question. But regardless, I sure as heck don’t want someone like that controlling how my information is used.

  • Cindy C.

    If they specify for internal use, I don’t see how they can publish it (to, as you say, stroke their egos) and still hide behind their TOS. I think they will continue to do this until a viable threat comes along to their company model. I would have suggested G+ at one point, but not sure they are that threat OR that they are any more trustworthy.

  • Claudia Licher

    Food for thought Mark! Guess what ‘saved’ me from being pulled into FB is the fact that I honestly don’t care if someone I know got a new haircut or something like that… and I don’t enjoy sharing every smile from our son with everyone I can think of. Ergo: zero points for the FB valium effect so far – even less so with this kind of news getting out. I get my information high from reading and commenting on blogs 🙂

  • Sandra Isaac

    Very well written and completely mind blowing! Facebook has become a drug for many, regardless of how “bad” it may seem. Some people will “come off of it” while others will not care about be manipulated or consequences, as long as they can post and get likes and get their “fix” for the day. Big Brother is in our lives, and he’s becoming quite the bully.

  • Gary Schirr

    Interesting post, Mark.

    I don’t believe that the IPO changed the corporate culture of FB significantly. Zuck’s “they trust us, the dumb F——s” attitude toward customers was already well-established and is an ongoing danger to FB and its customers. I had hopes that the IPO might bring some maturity and balance to FB.

    I think it is great that we are focusing on the algorithm-formerly-known-as-Edgerank, but am amused that the world is up in arms about what is actually an interesting experiment.

    Eight months ago FB shut down the “Like Economy” by severely limiting the reach of business page posts. Small businesses who had bought into the LIke Economy vision and had focused on generating Likes for several years, suddenly had to find a budget for FB ads or write off their previous social media activity. This seemed to me to be a swindle of Madoff proportions.

    But again I welcome a look at the power of that algorithm….

  • MaureenMonte

    Interesting “dissection” of a real mess. To Kat’s point below – FB people don’t leave. My question to you, Mark, without putting you on the spot even though I am – knowing what you know now, would you encourage your clients to be on Facebook if they aren’t there already?

  • If Facebook fell off the face of the earth tomorrow, I would dance a little dance. There are SO many reasons why I’m unhappy with them and this is just another reason. It’s the Cuba of social media sites…it’s a beautiful country but once you get past that, you sure don’t want to live there.

  • So Facebook was caught with the metaphorical smoking gun. What’s the appropriate action? A user “strike” until the terms of service change or Facebook promises to behave more ethically? A class action suit? An investigation by an activist state attorney general or the Department of Justice? Those actions don’t seem to harm banks and other large (and small) corporations when they are caught crossing legal and/or ethical lines. You’ve done a great job of describing the problem, Mark. Now what?

  • Thanks once more for a heads up, Mark. I was under a rock (at a SF con) and missed the story! Holy cow. All I noticed was that once more post reach was bizarre and made no sense at all. And confirms my belief that the only place I can reliably build my platform is on my own blog.

  • I’m going to put away my pitchfork and and torches for now, and suggest we pick a date for a “FB-free” day then promote it on…our FB page 🙂

  • Ever since Facebook went public, the whole company has changed. It went from being pro-users to now pro-greed. Everything is about money to them. They will sacrifice their users for their greater good. Love all of the comments already on this post – they hit every point I would have made. I’m thisclose to saying screw Facebook.

  • Has the “Godzilla” of the internet overstepped their boundaries? Sounds like Zuck’s fame and fortune has him on a real high. Will the bubble burst? However, I still admire this young man. He wouldn’t be where he is now without taking a few (several) risks, something most of us struggle with!

  • If it isn’t already, consumer testing and research could become a significant source of income for them. If corporate views Facebook as the world’s largest focus group and research tool, and pressure is on for fresh revenue streams, it’s a natural evolution. A bit horrifying, but not surprising at all, given their typical mindset. I imagine they will bury an opt-out eventually, once they are forced to, much like they did with tracking everyone’s shopping activity off of Facebook to drive on-Facebook retargeting.

  • I once wrote that is is easier to move from your hometown than to move away from Facebook. It’s still true!

  • Thanks for commenting Chuck.

  • … and don’t forget they are also tracking — and sharing with advertisers — your browser history. Not your FB history, your BROWSER history. Really getting out of control.

  • I think you are correct Mia.

  • Thanks for the thought-provoking commentary Joe.

  • Facebook is almost as-integrated into society as the Internet, which is scary considering their mentality.

    Are they the only company doing this type of unethical data-manipulation? I highly doubt it, but don’t have the “smoking gun” to prove anything.

    But perhaps most-disturbing are some of the reactions, “meh,” “this doesn’t surprise me,” “they’ve been doing this all along” …

    Hand-waving like that is exactly what allows this to continue.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Facebook will suddenly fold up tent tomorrow, but I do hope they eventually get the message that we are NOT their product, EVEN if they offer a free service.

    We aren’t cattle, so I hope that eventually we’ll all quit being “okay” in various degrees with being treated like cattle.

    I deleted my Facebook account two years ago … and I suggest everyone else do the same, but I’m admittedly jaded. 🙂

  • No, and no. : ) Thanks Cindy.

  • Thanks for sharing your perspective Claudia.

  • I think describing FB as a drug is more than a fanciful analogy. Certainly there have been posts written about the research on social media addiction. Getting responses on posts releases dopamine — like getting a little high.

  • Sounds like Content Shock to me : )

    I agree with you, I don’t think it will change the culture. I think the IPO certainly can amplify the bad parts though.

  • Of course they need to be there. Business is business. I have to be able to separate personal views from good business sense as much as possible.

  • you made me laugh. Well said Kristen!

  • I think there will be a lawsuit coming out of this. Will it change anything? Not materially. For an entire generation, Facebook is the Internet and it won’t be going away. What’s your view Neil?

  • That’s kind of my view too. There is no way you can trust Facebook/Instagram or Google/YouTube. That is pretty sad. They act like punks.

  • Well, it’s an idea. There is probably a groundswell for that. Could people actually stay away?

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  • I share your disappointment. What happened to the idea of integrity?

  • Risks are fine but not when they jeopardize values and ethics. Being ethical is good business, right?

  • I agree with you on the research for profit point and I think we will be seeing more of that. Thanks Carrie!

  • This whole idea of tolerating bad behavior in exchange for a free service is fascinating. I can’t think of another example. It’s not like we have a contract with them. Or do we?

  • Mark, that is an EXCELLENT observation (of course, I expect that from you, LOL).

    Do we have a contract with Facebook? Or, is the “addiction” (generally, big picture) to Facebook the “contract” we can’t break?

    For me, it’s easy to call these websites what they are … tools to improve my ability to connect with people. They are a digital “telephone” of sorts, and nothing more than that.

    Granted, I’ve started (not developed, started) some great business and personal relationships using these tools (mainly Twitter) … but besides sharing content from various sources, that’s all I see them as, a telephone.

    A different way to communicate, and there are plenty of choices.

    But here’s the kicker, this is America, and Facebook is actually quite meaningless in the REALLY big picture, because there are other choices…

    … and in the end, we have the talent to create the “Facebook” we really want.

    Anyone up for the challenge? 🙂

  • Exactly. Apparently it’s a concept they have let fly out the window. Facebook is turning into the Big Brother in the 1984 Apple commercial.

  • Count me in Craig. It’s so interesting that FB is up in arms about the NSA’s activities and they do studies like this? I’m becoming less and less a fan of FB I must admit.

  • that’s the billion dollar question. I wish the answer was yes but I know that’s not realistic.

  • Absolutely Mark! Although he’s taken several risks there are boundaries. Sounds to me like he’s about to hit a boundary head-on! Part of the learning experience…but no, I agree. It’s never okay to jeopardize values/ethics! ; )

  • Aseem Jibran

    Absolutely rational approach here. I second you on the fact that the only imminent threat to Facebook is its own self. They are stating that it was for research purpose and their terms and conditions allow them to do this. What if some big company pay them handsome amount of money to do something similar for them? Tweak users feed in some way? How horrifying would that be?

  • When you learn that the trust you extend is held by those whose integrity level dips below minimally acceptable standards, time for a wake up call all around. How each party responds will determine the future of the relationship. Taking the high road means giving them the benefit of the doubt, letting the other party know what they did was wrong and to not to do it again. Up to them whether they have the guts to own up to it. So far, it’s not looking good for FB which is a great disappointment. As more people learn about this they can vote with their feet or in this case, their browser.
    Thanks Mark!

  • Cindy C.

    Love the analogy!!

  • Interesting observation. So where is Apple to save us? : ) What would the Apple Social Network look like?

  • I don’t think most people care as long as they have access to Farmville today. And I’m not being sarcastic.

  • Nichole_Kelly

    Agreed. That is the part that freaks me out the most. How in the world are they tracking our out of Facebook activities? They say you can opt out here, but it’s unclear as to whether that includes monitoring your browser history and the like.

  • I think that could happen unless this furor hurts the stock price.

  • Baygirl

    I will be shutting down my Facebook account because of this.

  • Tim Schley

    Gosh, this is so sleazy. My question is, what would have happened if doing something like this actually had a profound effect on a person’s emotional state? Could it have pushed someone already depressed to commit suicide?

    Really, it’s just disgusting how much of a knowledge gap there is between Facebook and its users. People laugh at the fact that nobody ever reads Terms and Conditions, but people really have no idea how serious these conditions are.

    For that matter, if Facebook is being audited, how are they able to do something like this?

  • Sandra Isaac

    Great….now I have the munchies!

  • That I believe is exactly what FB is counting on and apathy. Not proud or happy about that either but it is what it is.

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  • My guess is that this research is probably outside the “privacy silo” watched over by the government or maybe the government doesn’t know enough to ask the right questions. My view is that there is a large gap between the speed of digital change andthe government’s ability to process it. Many thanks for the great comment Tim!

  • I’m not sure about that. The cost of unseating Facebook would be enormous and difficult. Just ask the people over at Google!

  • Tim Schley

    I definitely agree with you, Mark. You’re able to see that speed difference reflect in many areas, especially foreign policy and NSA-related matters.

    I guess I’m disgusted by Facebook obviously abusing it’s users, but the more I think about it, I’m more disgusted by the “respected” institution that conducted the experiment. By no means am I an expert in regards to scientific research, but I would have assumed prior to this that subjects of a study would have had to give consent to participate AND be knowledgeable that the study is going on. Does agreeing to the Terms and Conditions fully give consent? Does the subject need to know that they are in a study?

    It’s entirely possible my naivety is showing. These are just questions that in my opinion need to be addressed, but like you said, the government moves at a completely different pace.

  • Christopher Penn did a wonderful job dissecting the ethics of this issue in his blog post today:

  • Isn’t interesting that Facebook has a business plan largely based on apathy. I think there is something to that.

  • When sued, large corporations pay up, admit no guilt and promise to be good in the future. Then, often, they’ll cross the line again.

    We trust Facebook even though it does not earn that trust. You are spot on saying Facebook will not, at core, change. We, the users, are equally unlikely to change.

  • Tim Schley

    Thanks for sharing that, Mark! That was exactly the point I was trying to make!

    At any rate, I don’t think this issue will be going away any time soon. Thanks for posting.

  • I’m no fan of Facebook, in fact I really can’t stand it, that’s why I’m a bit confused. I actually see why they experimented in such a way, pressure. They’re under so much pressure to succeed and grow they’ll probably try anything with the slightest chance of bringing them some relief from their critics and shareholders.
    I’m not saying they were right to experiment in this way, but I can appreciate why they probably felt they had to try.

    I bet google are doing similar work, just better at covering it up 🙂

  • mlvlatina

    Thank you for a thought provoking article.

    I deleted my account today. I will not return. I know I am just one small person, but FB crossed a personal line. It’s like giving your abusive ex spouse keys to your home. Nonsense.

  • I must admit I am a Facebook junkie. It is by far my favorite social media platform but this “experiment” may have changed things. The fact they view their users as guinea pigs and show no respect for our feelings is appalling. The fact they would play with a persons emotions deliberately is unacceptable. Put it out their for people to choose whether or not they want to participate. Give people the right to choose what’s in their best interest. I have spent way too much time on Facebook building my brand over the past couple years to completely jump ship but this will definitely change my online marketing efforts in favor of Twitter.

  • MarcosAvila

    Good comparison [telephone], JosephRatliff. I also regard Facebook as a means, and an occasional passtime at most. And I do use a lot other options. But still, being able to communicate so quickly and catch up with so many friends in such a short time (5-10 min/day for me) is something that I feel no other tool currently offers me.

  • Well Mark! I’m glad you’ve called it out. And, from many of the comments, some are actually getting the underlying message many of us have been yelling about (and most avoiding) for years.

    Yes, they stepped way out of bounds. But, personally I’m rather glad they did! They have exposed the primary concern. These companies have the power to influence ‘society think’. And, by the way, these major properties (FB, Google, Microsoft et al) have the power to influence more than many understand, and substantially profit from it!

    With semantic control, they WILL influence how people react the way THEY want us to. We don’t control what we read anymore. In the ‘old days’ of search, people looked for the information they wanted to consume. In the ‘New Days’, these properties dictate what we see and control it. Therefore, as this experiment proved, they can totally manipulate a society’s response. Just imagine ‘the war of the worlds’ in internet time.

    Is it possible Zuck did us all a huge favor? That is if we as a free thinking society actually respond to the insights into a potential future we’ve just been provided. A future where some powerful companies actually can control the public mindset? This is the most potentially disruptive insight ever provided in social media, IMHO.

    Now, what are we going to do about it? What are you, the brilliant Business Grow followers, going to do about it. And, do we have the ‘influence’ needed to truly affect change? Or, are we already so ‘controlled’ and ‘sanitized’, we don’t care as long as we think we can share in the profits?

  • Great comment Neil.

  • Agree and agree. Thanks again for making the effort to see me in London Barry. It was great to meet you!

  • Powerful comment.

  • I think this will provably blow over like the other controversies. Will be interesting to know if you feel the same way a month from now. Good to hear from you Dexter.

  • “Society think.” I love that characterization. Is that original? I may gave steal that one.

    Always an honor to have Reader Number One display his brilliance into comment section!

  • Yup, i think so LOL. I feel that is something we should continue to use as it’s the real effect of true ‘influence’. I’m not so sure about the brilliance bit but what the heck! I’ll take whatever i can get LOL.

    Seriously, i believe this is the most important discussion about true Social Media influence ever! Congrats for calling it out.

  • No problem at all, it was well worth the trip! 🙂

  • That would definitely be something to imagine!

  • excellent post, Mark. you mentioned in a reply to a comment that you’re able to separate your business and personal beliefs. and I don’t mean to put you on the spot, so I’m asking in a sincere (entirely curious) way: how do you live in the dichotomy of knowing this, yet needing (and still posting) to Facebook?

  • Sadly I agree. As you say Craig, Facebook is counting on apathy. Very much like politics IMHO. I think apathy is partially due to content shock. We have too much to filter out today that our brains cannot handle the volume/noise. The neuroscience geek in me is worried about this.

  • #SadTruth

  • There have been shrewd, manipulative, even Machiavellian mindsets with us since caveman times, that count on opportunities that circumstance presents, to exploit others especially when there’s vast wealth (power) to gain. Not that we need more proof but FB just provided another example that slight of hand business tricks are still with us, though an advanced version that uses a fog of content overload/shock as Don Stanley mentions to cloak it. Our post-Great Recession atmosphere is a perfect breeding ground for this type of thing; people are time deprived so they don’t pay as close attention as they may have in the past.

  • Sobering post– thank you, Mark! And, reading all the comments (ok, skimmed though a bunch, but read quite a bit), I’m reminded of a brief scene on NCIS where Dr. Donald “Ducky Mallard explains the difference between ethics and morals:

    “The ethical man knows he shouldn’t cheat on his wife, whereas the moral man actually wouldn’t.”

  • Hmmm… been reading about this, wrapping my head around it.

    First there’s the ‘furor’ in some circles that’s as silent as can be in others. So part of many lives, so many seem so willing to go along blindly. To which I gotta go w/ @craiglindberg:disqus et al about a FacebookOut Day; it’s a good thought, and yes people will see they can live w/out it but.. doubtful it’ll have profound, lasting impact. See also any day we put down our phones and stop texting, tweeting, Googling (talk about another company we blindly trust in exchange for ‘free’ services).

    Second there’s the business analysis, ethics and morals. What’s worse, playing w/ then praying upon people’s emotions to keep them reading.. or keep them buying? IDK Mark, there are times I see brands roll out the ‘little girl w/ soldier dad’ commercials and I run screaming from the predatory manipulation in the name of hawking beer or greeting cards.

    “It put its ego above its customers.” This this is the catch. I am not a FB customer – I am it’s product. Me, my eyeballs, my data, my stupid self blocking ads and posts and then telling FB why I did so. I am what FB sells to its customers in order to make a buck. Ok, lots of bucks. So am I shocked or appalled by FB? It’s terrible, but not really all that gobsmacking to me. Hell the douchey hubris of publishing this as scholarly experiment, that pretty much nails it. As owner of a recalled GM car (one that’ll be worthless the day it’s paid off) … I’m used to getting hosed by big $ corporate world. FWIW.

  • Thank you sir.

  • I don’t separate my beliefs and values, but I do separate what might make sense for a business versus what might make sense for me as a person. For example, geo-location services offer great business opportunities but personally, they creep me out. That doesn’t mean I would not encourage a customer though. However if there was a situation that was any way unethical, my personal values and business values would be aligned.

  • Thanks for adding your wisdom today sir.

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  • I think this is a sentiment that will ring true to a lot of folks Davina. Thanks so much, as always, for the thought-provoking commentary!

  • Emeric

    @businessesgrow:disqus, I think Google is also tracking browser activity as well as GPS location. Not to justify what Facebook is doing, but I think both advertising giants are trying whatever they can to gather data that they think will make their content and ads more relevant.

  • Marcin ?ó?towski

    Thank you for bringing up this outrageous issue, Mr. Shaefer. These kind of revelations are hardly eye-opener to anyone familiar with Facebook’s notorious history and views of its founder. After all, what can you expect from someone who thinks of people who entrust him with personal information as of “dumb f*cks.”

    Let’s be honest here. Facebook owes much of its exponential success to a great deal of good luck and the fact that Internet users decided willingly to turn a blind eye to privacy issues providing Zuckerberg and his retinue with unprecedented access to pool of social data. What followed was a conflation of fad and snowball effect. Thanks to its ability to attract millions and harvest stockpiles of info from users’ behavior Facebook managed to draw attention of business investors and has grown exponentially to the position of social media leader.

    On its login page Facebook put a slogan, which in the wake of recent events gives off a strain of cynicism – ‘It’s free and always will be.’ Common wisdom has it that there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. Now, at least, we clearly know what kind of price we are paying…

  • Guest

    Thank you for bringing up this outrageous issue, Mr. Schaefer. These kind of revelations are hardly eye-opener to anyone familiar with Facebook’s notorious history and views of its founder. After all, what can you expect from someone who thinks of people who entrust him with personal information as of “dumb f*cks.”

    Let’s be honest here. Facebook owes much of its exponential success to a great deal of good luck and the fact that Internet users decided willingly to turn a blind eye to privacy issues providing Zuckerberg and his retinue with unprecedented access to pool of social data. What followed was a conflation of fad and snowball effect. Thanks to its ability to attract millions and harvest stockpiles of info from users’ behavior Facebook managed to draw attention of business investors and has grown exponentially to the position of social media leader.

    On its login page Facebook put a slogan, which in the wake of recent events gives off a strain of cynicism – ‘It’s free and always will be.’ Common wisdom has it that there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. Now, at least, we clearly know what kind of price we are paying…

  • Marcin ?ó?towski

    Thank you for bringing up this outrageous issue, Mr. Schaefer. These kind of revelations are hardly eye-opener to anyone familiar with Facebook’s notorious history and views of its founder. After all, what can you expect of someone who thinks of people who entrust him with personal information as of “dumb f*cks.”

    Let’s be honest here. Facebook owes much of its exponential success to a great deal of good luck and the fact that Internet users decided willingly to turn a blind eye to privacy issues providing Zuckerberg and his retinue with unprecedented access to pool of social data. What followed was a conflation of fad and snowball effect. Thanks to its ability to attract millions and harvest stockpiles of info from users’ behavior Facebook managed to draw attention of business investors and has grown exponentially to the position of social media leader.

    On its login page Facebook put a slogan, which in the wake of recent events gives off a strain of cynicism – ‘It’s free and always will be.’ Common wisdom has it that there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. Now, at least, we clearly know what kind of price we are paying…

  • Thanks very much for taking the time to add your ideas here Marcin.

  • Gary Schirr

    “Content Shock” is a great cover for FB to use when tweaking its algorithm to force small companies to purchase ads.

  • John M Salin

    Thanks for the heads up here Mark, I happen to agree with your assessment.

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  • True. Facebook is so interwoven into our lives its almost impossible to leave. So someone is deleting their account? That lasts until that cousin’s new baby photos are on Facebook and they have to go there to see them (as one example)

  • Anonymous

    So A/B testing isn’t treating your customers like lab rats? Seems like the same concept.

  • One of the things I often see being put in FB’s defense is… it’s free.

    It actually seems legit. You provide your information and you get to partake in the world’s biggest social network, find friends new and old, stay connected, share cat pictures yadayadayada…. all of that. For free. Given the work it takes to maintain it all, I personally can’t fault Facebook for using my data as it’s what I pay with instead of hard cash. From a marketer’s perspective, their intention to use data just to create better user experiences almost makes it benevolent.

    This is what leads me to think that it’s not so much the use of the data but the lack of consent (as you also pointed out). Manipulation via newsfeeds really IS something you need to make public. After all, isn’t that essentially tampering with your product while your customers are using it? Don’t you think they, being as they’re paying with their own data, have a right to at least know you’ll be fudging up their experience for a few days?

  • Lola

    Im curious how many people would come forward and admit that their depression or anger increased or decreased by FB influences. My 20 year old daughter woke up and turned on FB one day. She saw a woman throwing puppies into a river in one video posted to her feed and saw in another hundreds of years old trees being cut in the night for no reason and the people laughing and then saw a boy being beaten by his father as it was recorded. Her post afterwards was how angry and depressing this world is making her. Makes me wonder if she was part of the experiment time. I told her to focus on what she can control and avoid watching what she can not. It angers me to even think about how bad of a day she had due to negative FB posts in her feed.

    I think its awesome BTW Mark that you respond to all of your comments.

  • Pingback: Facebook Experiment: Why Mess With Our Emotions? by @eleanorpie Spin Sucks()

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