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Hey Facebook, this data is mine!

By Mal Fletcher - posted Friday, 4 July 2014

Facebook's recent psychological experiment, which involved social media users without their consent, reflects an arrogance and a disregard for privacy at the heart of the world's largest networking organisation.

The experiment attempted to manipulate people's moods and emotions. It was tested on 689,000 Facebook users who knew nothing about it.

The test involved tweaking Facebook's algorithms to show users news posts which were either mostly positive or mostly negative. They found that users who were shown negative reports then tended to post less positive things about themselves.


The test is now a legal matter. Regulators in both the UK and Ireland, where Facebook Europe is based, are to investigate whether the company has broken data protection laws.

Ostensibly, the experiment was a test of the power of social contagion within the internet culture.

The results were hardly surprising. Separate studies have already shown that even light use of Facebook use increases feelings of depression. This is thought to be because when we engage with social media we're only ever given a window into the best lives of others.

Hardly anyone takes to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to talk about the less attractive or boring parts of their lives. Reading the selectively entered posts of others, we can begin to feel less upbeat about our own lives.

The fact that other research has been carried out for the same result, however, doesn't excuse Facebook's methods. Reputable research is conducted with the full knowledge and consent of its volunteers, not behind their backs.

In times past, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has openly aligned himself with the thinking of Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems, who famously said after September 11, 2001, 'Privacy is dead, get over it.'


In an interview with TechCrunch magazine in January 2010, Mr Zuckerberg indicated that his company was now acting on the assumption that people want less privacy, given that they share so much about themselves online.

The problem with this thinking, of course, is that people may be sharing more about themselves, but they actually quite like having a clear measure of control over their information.

Facebook sometimes acts as if it should be the ultimate steward of that information.

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Read Mal Fletcher's OpEd on Google and the European Court of Justice. This article was first published at 2020PLUS.NET.

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About the Author

Mal Fletcher is a media social futurist and commentator, keynote speaker, author, business leadership consultant and broadcaster currently based in London. He holds joint Australian and British citizenship.

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