Everybody here loves social media, right? And, if I had to guess, nearly everyone is on Facebook, right? Let me ask you a question, then…
Have you noticed that, the less time you spend on Facebook, the better you feel? I know I do. I signed off of Facebook on July 2, and except for a couple of times, mostly to research this post, I’ve stayed off. And probably will.
Why? It all has to do with some psychological experimentation they decided to conduct on a small segment of their users a while back. Evidently they were curious about seeing more positive or more negative updates caused people to post more or less frequently. So, rather than asking people if they’d like to participate in their experiment, they just sort of conducted it on 700,000 randomly-chosen users. The results of the experiment were published earlier this year.
Well, the crap hit the fan at the end of June, and on July 23, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, apologized… not for doing it, but for “poorly communicating” that they were doing it. It seems that, buried somewhere in the terms of service, Facebook has said that they can do this. They just never did a good job of telling people that. Oops.
It’s one thing to know that you’re part of a psychological experiment. When I took Psychology at Northwestern back in the paleolithic period, part of the deal was that you had to sign up to be a part of a certain number of experiments to pass the course. You knew that you were being experimented on. This is a different story: I don’t know if I was made a part of this experiment, and if so, which group I was assigned to. Like a lot of Americans, I have dysthymia. I don’t need some social media company deliberately manipulating what I see to make me feel better or worse. If someone was already depressed, how could this have made it worse? What if someone took their own life or harmed themselves or others so Facebook could see how to manipulate their newsfeed for advertisers?
I’m not naive enough to think that Amazon, Google, et al. aren’t using the things I do online to tailor the results I get based on what I’ve done in the past. I expect that. In the case of Amazon, I almost welcome it, other than the fact that they keep recommending Regency romance novels to me because Mary and I share the same account. What Facebook did is different: they deliberately pushed positive or negative news to people who didn’t know it was being pushed to them, all because they were afraid that too much negative stuff in your timeline might cause you not to use the service and that the advertisers who are paying big money for Facebook to push their ads might take their business elsewhere if people stop using Facebook.
This is why I don’t add a social media link for Facebook here. You see links for Twitter and Google+, but I refuse to add one for Facebook. I won’t be spending much time there anymore, anyway…