Doesn't feel very good, does it? For someone to say they're listening to what you say, what you type, and attempting to use that information for their own purposes. I'm not trying to get you to close your browser, or quit the Internet, or unplug from all social media. It is to examine the sorts of reactions that people have to such a revelation.
Recently it was disclosed that Facebook spent a week in January of 2012 manipulating the feeds of some 600,000 plus users to see if the emotional content and impact of social media could affect the users themselves. In other words, they wanted to see if our emotional reactions in the realm of social media was the same as the realm of real life. I don't think it takes a rocket surgeon to understand that in real life when people around you feel a certain way, you tend to feel similarly. It's called empathy. The results of the study aren't nearly as interesting as the reaction to it.
This comes back to my opening statement. We're spying on you. The IP address your computer is using to access this very website is public information and location specific. Try it! Without getting too much in the weeds about the technological side of it, if a website manager wants to know where people are accessing their site from, they can. Modern websites depend on it. If, for example, we discover that a large percentage of our users live in, say, Minnesota, we can determine that it might not be smart to poke the bear and post about golfing in January here in sunny Arizona. I could write a piece that makes me look, sound, and feel like I live right down the block from you, were I a gifted enough writer.
So we know that Facebook manipulates our feed, for a couple of reasons. They do it to promote organizations willing to pay them extra money, to drive people to become in businesses that use Facebook as an advertising venue, and to provide posts you may have missed from people and organizations their analytics determine you're more interested in keeping up with. With the sheer volume of friends and liked pages, a stream of consciousness of Facebook may be just as unpleasant as the manipulations they place on a feed anyway. While the extra step of manipulation for emotional content is a step farther, it's not nearly as drastic a departure from their norm as it seems on its face.
Anger against Facebook is nothing new. Any time they change nearly anything about the appearance, security settings, or policies of their site, the immediate reaction is nearly always vitriol. Is this level of manipulation a real overreach? It is very revelatory of not just their organization, but how the Internet at large functions. Websites exist to drive content and make money. The services they offer, be they social media, commerce, commentary, are means to that end. While the specificity of targeted emotional manipulation by Facebook feels excessive on its face, it's a peek through the looking glass for what the entire internet is anyway. We're all spying on each other. You choose how much you give, and how much you receive.
You didn't think Google figured out how much you like cats by accident, did you?
Steven Alwine was born in Berlin, Germany to two American service members, and was raised in Stafford County, Virginia. He worked a lot of odd jobs during his younger years; retail at a comic bookstore, courier of foreign adoption paperwork in DC, waiting tables, and teaching Karate. 12 years ago he joined the United States Army where he started in air defense and is now in the intel maintenance field. He has been married for 7 years, and has two wonderful kids. An avid golfer and gamer, he also considers himself a “generalized athlete”. He is currently working on a degree in Intelligence Studies, and when he retires from the Army he hopes to get into the world of golf marketing.