Facebook. It’s everyone’s favourite, most beloved means of keeping up with anyone and everyone. From your sister in Australia to your third cousin’s best friend in Paris, it’s hard to imagine how we would ever cope sometimes without the big online community we have fostered.
However, in June of this year, it was revealed that Facebook had performed a week-long experiment in 2012. These experiments were on its users’ moods; monitoring and manipulating Newsfeeds to showcase predominantly positive or negative posts and then monitoring the response it caused through their statuses and posts. Even “a small percentage” of emotional words were hidden to see the impact it had upon likes and shares. Yet, are we really surprised by this? Is it inevitable that the site, which garners over 757m users daily, would succumb to a slightly sinister curiosity in exploring just how much power it has within its hands?
Not surprisingly, Facebook has defended its actions with a spokesman describing how:
“A big part of this is understanding how people respond to different types of content, whether it’s positive or negative in tone, news from friends, or information from pages they follow.”
The information which appears on our Newsfeeds causes by our very nature, a completely subjective response to it (i.e that selfie of your old school friend might make one friend smile and respond positively but not necessarily you.) Therefore, I find it fundamentally disturbing that Facebook is seemingly making attempts to neatly categorise its content into positive or negative. Life, which Facebook is supposed to emanate to a large degree, cannot be neatly categorised, so why are they even trying to do so?
With more users than ever before across the world, categorisation of content would pose an even more redundant task. While some might foster an online persona of happiness others use Facebook as perhaps a way to vent about a bad day at work, for example. Therefore, the absolute spectrum of posts which Facebook is home to is very much at odds with whatever algorithm that Facebook is attempting to come up with. The whole affair, and the ultimate goal derived from it, appears to be shrouded in a great deal of mystery. Jacob Silverman has stated how:
“This research may tell us something about online behaviour, but it’s undoubtedly more useful for, and more revealing of, Facebook’s own practices.”
If Facebook can keep their users happy and passive then that is good for Facebook, right? If happy posts are at the top of your Newsfeed and negativity is nowhere to be found then it’s good for you? Why would you want to argue with that?
Facebook’s experiments should be opposed because if the ultimate goal is to keep its users happy it negates and alienates anything ardently deeper. If Facebook has the power, as it seems to, to keep negative posts hidden from your Newsfeed and as a result, your consciousness, then there is something inherently wrong. That isn’t supposed to be what social media is; social media is powered by the people and it’s supposed to therefore, portray the human condition and that will include anything whether it’s positive or negative. However, to expect this without some tampering and intervening by the owners would be a little naive.
Perhaps I’m jumping the gun. You’ll still log in and see posts about your best friend breaking their leg or someone getting stuck in the worst traffic on the way to work. However, if this causes a negative reaction and association, I very much doubt that is what Facebook ultimately wants for its users despite its place in reality or not. While at times we might put on an online persona to perhaps impress or retrieve validation, Facebook’s experiments being exposed should be a warning to perhaps not be so trusting of a large corporation which has that much power in its hands. Soon you might find that all posts are strangely the same and Facebook’s ultimate need to keep its users happy and, to more importantly, seal a continuation of usage of their site, is always going to be the underlying premise of it. As Jacob Silverman has described for The Wire “the internet is a vast collection of market research studies; we’re the subjects.”
As published on studentjournals.co.uk on 10/07/2014