Part 3 – Research
Some companies, like Facebook, conduct research with the help of the data that is collected from their users. The research that Facebook does is often of a psychological nature. The possibilities are endless. It can be about how social media affects people, or how you could manipulate people with the help of social media.
In a well publicized case from 2012, Facebook was caught conducting an experiment on its users without notifying them.
The experiment was done by removing a certain amount of emotionally charged words from the feeds of certain users, in order to see how this affected the content they themselves put out. The experiment showed that users who had positive content removed from their feeds started putting out less positive content themselves. When negative content was removed, their output became more positive. This was also seen to be reproduced in their friends’ output, and so on. This phenomena is called emotional contagion. Our emotional state is affected by the emotional state of people around us.
The experiment was conducted by the government of India, and the official reason was that Facebook wanted to learn how to optimize their advertising for users outside of the USA. There was a lot of outrage about this, mainly because Facebook did it without notifying their users. Their defense was that it was supposed to be covered by their Terms of Service. The issue was hotly debated, and four months after the case was made public, Facebook updated their Terms of Service to include a clause about research. This means that in agreeing with their Terms of Service today, you also agree to let them conduct research on you without notifying you.
The implications of this research and what it showed are huge. Facebook has the power to manipulate the emotional states of 2.7 billion users. It could easily be used to shift the course of mankind.