Users Not Likely to Change Habits Because of Facebook’s Secret Experiments

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Facebook has found itself in yet another sticky public relations situation. As a recent report from The Wall Street Journal highlights, the social media behemoth, hosting 1.3 billion active users, is said to have conducted social experiments on 700,000 unknowing users in 2012. The aim of the experiments? By manipulating the type of posts users see in their feeds, the stream of data users see from others, Facebookhoped to find out whether or not positive or negative posts would elicit similar moods in audiences. After tweaking these feeds to only show negative posts or positive posts, depending on the user, Facebook’s Data Science team (read: evil corporate scientists) found that emotions could, indeed, be manipulated to match what’s viewed on-screen.

Zuckerberg & Co. Aren’t the First to Experiment on Users
The revelations that Facebook may be more like James Bond’s laughable criminal empire SPECTRE than previously suspected is being met with suspicion and even anger by many of its users. It’s worth pointing out, however, that Facebook’s actions, while unethical, are certainly not unique. Google, the emperor of the worldwide web, is known to have run at least 20,000 different experiments on user data over the last decade.

Despite the small tremor this news has sent throughout Facebook’s user-base, many in the know say that public knowledge of the experiments is actually a good thing. Some, like The New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo, think that this discovery could spur on truly valuable scientific studies, and, with a little luck, may also push companies to be more transparent when they’re using their customers as guinea pigs.

Shady Practices Aren’t Likely to Dissuade Users
Whether or not social experimentation on popular social media sites will prove to be beneficial to the world at large remains to be seen; however, for Facebook, Google, and other tech giants, it’s unlikely that treating users like samples in their Petri dishes will negatively affect their bottom lines. Quite simply, these are self-sustaining monsters. The average social media user spends between 2.4 to 3.8 hours plugged in to their favorite service each day. In a very real way, we can’t get along without social media. Between the games, playgrounds for the vain, and ability to stay connected to friends and family, users aren’t likely to give it all up, even if they are collectively treated as Frankenstein’s monster.

“Facebook is a business, Facebook is not a public service. Businesses are built to make money, therefore we shouldn’t be upset when we find out they are trying ‘experiments’ on users’ feeds. Yes, it’s upsetting when they change the ‘rules’ while you’re still on the field. But, If you disagree with what they are doing that strongly, then you can show your displeasure by not using Facebook.”  says Don Keller, Vice President, Catalpha

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