Facebook's Experiment, What They Did Wrong
In case you missed it, Facebook recently conducted an experiment whereby they altered the emotional tone of hundreds of thousands of people’s page feeds to see if that affected their emotional state. And it did. They published their results, and now there’s a big fuss about it and how it is unethical as it lacked informed consent etc.
I think this is a fascinating debate. People are justly upset at being manipulated in this way. I would be too.
Here’s where Facebook went wrong: they published their experiment. If they had kept quiet we would not complain.
Am I mad? How would facebook’s silence have made this okay? It wouldn’t have. But it would have made their experiment exactly like the emotional manipulation conducted by all large marketing organizations.
Those soulful dark eyes on the forlorn girl advertising for world vision. The cheerful family and soccer mom used to guilt us into buying life insurance. These are chosen in the same way, and to influence our feelings.
In the same way politicians use immigration, or families or religion to tweak our feelings towards their cause.
Don’t think for a moment that these people don’t know what they are doing. Marketers, politicians, businesses employ experts to conduct exactly the same kind of experiment to find out how best to sway you in the ways they want.
What Facebook did wrong was to tell us they did it, and to do it for an ignoble cause, that of pure knowledge. If they had done it to make you buy stuff you don’t need, or to vote for someone. That would have been okay.
And if what Facebook did was not okay, we need to be discussing these others, the marketers and politicians. Simply by pretending they do not do this, we have allowed them to get away with it. Perhaps we should challenge that now.