Written by Leah Symonne
Facebook has come under public scrutiny once again. In recent news it was released that Facebook has been using its subscribers as ‘lab rats’. How so? Several big online businesses and social media sites use an algorithm to understand their users and help create ads that target their specific wants and needs. For example, if you’ve been googling beach balls for a while, you may notice that ads on several sites telling where you can find beach balls will appear. Facebook took this one step further, attempting to understand their users through manipulation of their timelines. They aimed to understand how users’ emotions are affected depending on what appears on their feeds. They targeted 689,003 people’s news feeds. The information they gathered from these surveys were published in a scientific journal called Proceedings of the Nation Academy of Science.
Users were outraged that their personal information was taken, and used to manipulate them for research without their knowledge. Facebook defended itself stating that within their terms and services, which all users must agree to before joining the site; they request permission to carry out such operations. They have the right, given that the user has agreed to the Terms of Service, to “internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement.” Facebook said they aimed to understand if positive and negative atmospheres online affect people as much as they do in their day to day lives. Their research proved that online atmospheres do affect people as much as positive or negative atmospheres in reality. Users who were given more negative feeds, posted more negative posts where as users with more positivity on their feeds, responded with more positive posts.
Despite the public outrage, Facebook is not the first or the last to have conducted experiments like this on their users. This also is not the first time they have extracted information from their users to understand trends.
Though social media provides a free platform for users to stay connected with friends and family and share their lives with many, the platform is a business. Its main purpose is to make money, and generate revenue which it can only do by catering to the needs, wants and desires of each specific user. The methods are always questionable, but when aren’t they when it comes to big business? Facebook, like many times before, issued an apology. What will Facebook do next with its users’ information?