When news broke last week that Facebook had been using its users to run some split testing there seemed to be a lot of column inch’s dedicated to the story. What Facebook had done was used 700,000 people to test to see if they could affect their emotions by manipulating the proportion of positive and negative posts in the individuals ‘news feed’.
The response to this has been one of outrage, yet I can’t help thinking people are over reacting. I understand that they may feel they have been used and perhaps cheated by this experiment and it’s the not knowing that leaves them feeling frustrated and silly. Would they have opted in to such a test if they had been asked by Facebook? Probably not, but then the test would not have had the same results if they had.
Our emotions have been played with since the dawn of marketing and they’re the reason we respond to the adverts we see and hear. Marketers know this and use it when planning any marketing strategy to maximise their return.
Also gone are the days when Facebook was a place for friends to keep in touch with each other and share photos. It’s a multibillion dollar business whose sole purpose is to get as much useful information out of us as possible, then use this information to help them make money.
However when it comes to playing with emotions there’s a carful path to be trod, for example if Facebook target someone with negative stories who is perhaps already feeling depressed or even suicidal then there could be huge implications. There have been cases in the past of people committing suicide because of cyber bullying and while Facebook aren’t bullying anyone they admit that the test was successful, meaning they could perhaps influence their feelings.
Facebook have since issued an apology, Adam Kramer said in his blog “my co-authors and I are very sorry for the way the paper described the research and any anxiety it caused. In hindsight, the research benefits of the paper may not have justified all of this anxiety.” All very noble I’m sure you’ll agree.
So what’s my advice to you, understand that the world of social media marketing is huge and businesses are targeting this channel in ever increasing numbers to help them boost their sales and profit. Also, and this is very important, think about the information you are sharing when on social media as it’s not just Facebook that are looking to use the data you provide to make money from you. Every time you ‘Like’ a particular product, music artist or TV programme you allow platforms like Facebook to build a profile on you, then use it against you to influence both how you feel and what you purchase.
Whether they are able to change your emotions or not, what is important to remember is that they are only using information you have freely given them to play with your emotions. Social media seems to have blinded us and causes people to share information which 5 -10 years ago was the most personal information you had.
Do you think this type of testing is ok? Has Facebook crossed the line with this test or does it say more about how we use social media?