Facebook goes all-in on evil, maybe.

Posted on 06/29/2014 in misc

Last week a paper was published in a respected scientific journal detailing an experiment done on 680,000 Facebook users, without their consent. They tinkered with what these people saw on Facebook, specifically to try to make them happier, or less happy. Sure, they sort of do they same thing all the time with advertising. However, there are rules governing advertising. They are distinguishable from your friends posts on Facebook. What they did here was completely behind the scenes, the user had no idea they were in an experiment. We all know they are advertising to us on Facebook. If you are still not sure about the ramifications here consider a couple hypothetical examples.

The Republican party (or Democrats, pick your poison) could throw silly money at Facebook for an exclusive, secret agreement that Facebook would try to impact how we feel about abortion, gun control, or whatever. I don't care how anti-whatever you may be, if for 6 months they very subtly tuned your feed to expose you to a certain point of view it will impact how you think. Likewise, maybe Pepsi spends big bucks to get us all thinking Pepsi over Coke, or maybe Putin sees Facebook as a way to improve Russia's standing with the citizens of the US. The possibilities are endless, or maybe that should be endlessly frightening.

I know the easy answer is just quit Facebook, but it really isn't that easy. Way too many civic and community groups have abandoned their websites for Facebook. For many people stuff they need to know is only available on Facebook. And for all my griping about Facebook, it has reconnected me with many far flung friends. I have too many friendships with distant friends that are maintained almost exclusively within the confines of the FB wall. I like seeing the pictures when my friends do interesting things, when their kids play Little League or attend the prom. Maybe that isn't the best way to do it, but for now, it is what it is.

So what do you do? I have no idea. But it does seem like a line has been crossed here. I'm still thinking about what I'm going to do. Honestly, I'll probably do nothing.

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