The Facebook Emotion Experiment – A Wakeup Call

For most of this week, commenters have been commenting and the internet has been buzzing with varying levels of disapproval over what has been revealed to have been a large scale experiment by Facebook to manipulate some users’ emotions by doctoring what facebook logo thumbshows up in their Facebook news feed.

On the face of it, that sounds bad, and it’s certainly not good, but there’s a very important lesson for parents in all of this. First, the details, according to the New York Times:

“Facebook revealed that it had manipulated the news feeds of over half a million randomly selected users to change the number of positive and negative posts they saw. It was part of a psychological study to examine how emotions can be spread on social media.”

To wit, for a week in 2012, Facebook altered the number of positive or negative posts that appeared in 689,000 users’ news feeds in order to study whether seeing others’ posts would impact what that user herself posted.

Cue the outrage.

What’s the lesson?

As a parent, you’ve made plenty of decisions in your life, hundreds of them more important than the question of whether you want to join Facebook. If you don’t like their privacy policies, or anything else, you don’t have to join.

If your child is a teen or tween, the decision process might not be easy. If a handful of your daughter’s friends join Facebook, she might feel like she “has to join” – in order to fit in, to be part of the conversation, to use the messaging platform or to share pictures.

Remind your kids that in no uncertain terms, Facebook users are not Facebook customers, and young users need to understand that they will be treated like a thing, not a person. Facebook will use your data in the way that best suits them, period. Sure, they’ll consider privacy and user satisfaction to some extent when making decisions, but the fact is users pay nothing to Facebook, and that is about what they can expect in return. Of course they want to manipulate your behavior – they want you to spend more time on Facebook.

Have a different opinion? Let us know in the comments.


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