Individual Mass Manipulation

There is great commentary on how and why Facebook’s infamous “emotion study” is unethical. The main point being that the researchers and Facebook violated the “informed consent” principle of research on humans.

There have been other “individual mass manipulation” studies. e.g. you could tip the outcome of close elections by manipulating search results. But manipulating the mood of people on a massive scale is “new.” Don’t get confused, I don’t mean it like “they try to influence what we’re thinking through TV and ads.” I mean individual manipulation. Different things are manipulated in varying amounts for everyone individually … basically anything that claims “to only show you the X most relevant to you” falls into this category (especially if they don’t offer a way out of the filter bubble).

But what should we do, now that we known we have the tools to enforce emotions? Why not actually press the “button of happiness“?

Imagine if Facebook could have a button which says “make the billion people who use Facebook each a little bit happier”. It’s quite hard to imagine a more effective, more powerful, cheaper way to make the world a little bit better than for that button to exist. I want them to be able to build the button of happiness. And then I want them to press it.

My dystopian senses tell me: it will be used, but not in the way suggested above. We can probably draw some conclusions from the fact that one of the authors’ work is funded by the DoD. Why would the DoD (or any military/government organization for that matter) fund anything useful to the general good of mankind?

I see three use cases manipulating emotions:

Or to put it more eloquently:

… large corporations (and governments and political campaigns) now have new tools and stealth methods to quietly model our personality, our vulnerabilities, identify our networks, and effectively nudge and shape our ideas, desires and dreams.
[…]
I identify this model of control as a Gramscian model of social control: one in which we are effectively micro-nudged into “desired behavior” as a means of societal control. Seduction, rather than fear and coercion are the currency, and as such, they are a lot more effective. (Yes, short of deep totalitarianism, legitimacy, consent and acquiescence are stronger models of control than fear and torture—there are things you cannot do well in a society defined by fear, and running a nicely-oiled capitalist market economy is one of them).

I think netzpolitik.org put it best in their conclusion (German):

The problem that these kinds of experiments and the systems that actually enable them pose is not that they are illegal, creatively or intentionally evil. This isn’t the case even if it might feel like it.
Instead [the problem is] that they’re only a tiny step away from legitimate everyday practice. That they look a lot like ordinary ads. That they sit on top of an already-accepted construction of reality by non-transparent providers. That because of their scale and stealth they can be so efficiently and easily hidden. That they don’t devise our loss of control, but only exploit it.

The actual study: “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks” (PDF)

They Used to Say That About Content

Facebook wants you to help them optimize their ads. You’re supposed tell them which ones you like or dislike so they can replace the ones you didn’t like with other you might “like more.” … This seems so bizarre … In essence Facebook is telling you to curate their ad stream for you the way you curate your own content stream. In doing so they blurt out things like

giving people more control about the ads they see

and

show you the ads that are most relevant to you

Is it just me, or is this exactly the way they used to talk about content?!? o.O

Real Fake Likes

Facebook offers you to pay for likes, which will generally come from people who don’t really like your page, but probably get paid for it. This in turn will drag down engagement on your posts, because now many of your (artificially limited) post views will go to them instead of genuinely interested people. Then Facebook offers you to pay to throttle your posts less so that they reach more people. … See? Win/Win!

Political Discussions Ruining Facebook and Friendships

A study shows “users who try to talk about politics on Facebook are often surprised by the political opinions of their acquaintances“.

Because Facebook not only has a low threshold for “friending” another person but also can bridge together many social groups with a single person’s post, it can be a breeding ground for alienation and resentment.

Yay, it’s working. 😀