4 Reasons Why the Facebook Experiment on User Emotions is No Big Deal

facebook experimentSo, there is an uproar over a Facebook experiment did on unknowing users. Apparently, the experiment involved user news feeds having either positive or negative content omitted.   A lot people don’t seem to like this.

I’m not one of those people.

An article I saw in the WSJ discusses the specifics of the controversial issue in more detail. It’s an experiment run by data scientists to gain a better understanding on user behavior, and it’s not siting well with some people. It seems like some potential objections to this are:

  • This messes with the minds of people, without their knowledge of what’s going on
  • This shows just how much influence “they” can have on us
  • There is too much information on users that can be used in ways users don’t even know about
  • There is a not enough privacy

I’m sure there are many other issues that some might have with all of this. Admittedly, I can understand these types of concerns, and can appreciate the point of view that this isn’t for everyone.

Nevertheless, it is what it is. It happened, and it can clearly happen again. Experiments can be done not only on Facebook, but on a wide variety of other platforms. They don’t necessarily have to be related to emotions, but can be for a variety of purposes.

Here are four reasons why I’m okay with it.

Data Analytics is The Way of the World Today

Analyzing customer data is quite normal. Businesses that want to make money will often have a strong interest in analyzing the behavior of customers.

Think about how many touch points we have with data. There are so many examples of ways our behavior can be tracked, classified, and analyzed. Just a few in day-to-day life include:

  • Credit card purchases
  • Website visits
  • Cellphone usage
  • Energy use
  • Social media activity

This is probably just the tip of the iceberg.   It’s happening everywhere, and it’s the way of the world now. There are different data sources, sellers of data, and a plethora of tools available to analyze customer behavior.

No need to be shocked by any of this.

Testing is Normal

Okay, I get that the emotions part of it might be difficult for some people. But online tests occur all the time.

A common way this happens is advertising. Maybe people will do an “A/B” test, where 50% of people will see a certain ad, and another 50% will see an alternate. Really, as long as the sample size is sufficient, there can be far more than just 2 versions.

This is typical. Businesses want to see what advertisements work, what offers work, and so on. It’s a way to learn about customer behavior, and it’s going on all over the place. Again, nothing to be up in arms over.

It’s a Business

The last time I checked, Facebook was a business. Remember the IPO?

Where I’m going with this is that many people seem to forget that Facebook isn’t some kind of public service. Even if it was, would this stop data from being collected and analyzed? But it doesn’t matter, because it isn’t a public service – it’s a business. And it happens to be one that has access to an absolute treasure trove of data.

So, why get so hung up on what they’re doing with their business? Like any other business, the customers have the right to walk away if they don’t like it. But, my guess is that many that are really upset about this won’t walk way. Because…..

Some People Spend too Much Time on Facebook Anyway

Yes, a lot of people seem to revolve their lives around Facebook. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an overstatement, but perhaps it can be said that some people spend an inordinate amount of time on there anyway.

We all know the types that post anything and everything about their lives on Facebook. Inane things like “OMG I saw a spider! I can’t wait for my husband to come home and take care of it”. Really, like we all needed to spend time reading that?

Or, the husband and wife duos that like each other’s posts. Why are they communicating through Facebook?

Don’t get me wrong, I think Facebook has real value and is a nice way to stay in touch with people at a surface level without investing much time into it. It’s a great way to get updates on the lives of friends and family.

But if a simple test such as this creates so much upheaval for someone, that’s a sign that he or she might want to deprioritize Facebook and diversify ways to communicate with others. Or, simply take up a different hobby.

Bottom Line: Let’s not take this too seriously, and focus our own finances and business instead. Also, let’s remember that we live in a world of data and that businesses will analyze data to make money or for other purposes. It is what it is, and we can opt-out of certain things if we want to. That freedom of choice we have deserves a “Like” button of its own!

My Question for You:

What are your thoughts on the Facebook experiment controversy?  I’m guessing many might not see it my way, and I’d like to know how you view this. 

Comments

  1. Kirsten @ Indebtedmom says

    Actually I’m with you, but I’m also not someone who sees “Big Brother” or conspiracies in everything. It doesn’t matter to me – Facebook is a business and they can run it however they like. That doesn’t mean people have to love it – but if you don’t, you are welcome to leave. And funny how the people who complain about some of Facebook’s choices never leave. They stick around for the next thing to complain about.

  2. Brian@ Debt Discipline says

    We’re a data driven world. Rating for TV, radio, demographics, etc Everyone’s trying to slice the data pie some way. Facebook is a great tool to get back in touch or stay connected, but some people hang on every status update like it life or death and that is just not healthy.

    • Squirrelers says

      I agree, we are in a data-driven world today. And yes, some people get too into it – to the point of taking it way too seriously.

  3. Aldo @ Million Dollar Ninja says

    It’s not like FB hasn’t been doing whatever they want for years. They show you whatever they want you to see. That’s why if we have a “Fan Page” we have to pay to boost our posts. They only show it to some people. But we choose to use their service so we either stop using FB or deal with their policies.

    • Squirrelers says

      Well said, we have to deal with the policies if using the site. It isn’t a public venue, it’s a business.

  4. Little House says

    I also think people should cut back on the amount of time they spend on Facebook, but I do get irked when FB keeps asking me where I live, where I work, blah, blah, blah. I don’t add this information for privacy reasons. I use FB just to keep up with family and friends that live in other states and that’s it. I’m actually thinking of using a browser that doesn’t track cookies because now I’m seeing tons of ads when I visit FB, it’s annoying.

    • Squirrelers says

      I’m regularly surprised by the things people say and do on Facebook. I think it can be great for keeping in touch with people, but publicly sharing some things isn’t the best move for many.

  5. The Wallet Doctor says

    Given that users create and utilize most facebook features for free, I don’t think its a big deal. We all know nothing in this world really comes free, and if the worse thing they ask from us is to allow them to experiment a bit, I don’t see the big deal. If you are really offended by it, just stop using the site. No one is making you.

    • Squirrelers says

      I know what you mean. It’s not a big deal, and people are free to stop using a site if they don’t like it.

  6. Zee @ Work To Not Work says

    I don’t really care about the Facebook experiment either. Like your example with showing ad’s online, I’m sure Facebook has been doing that for years already.

    I don’t really use Facebook much for personal stuff, I find that most people post too much nonsense… And I don’t think their experiment would have worked well on me either. I would probably see peoples “positive” posts and my response would be something along the lines of “I get it, you did another color run, I don’t care.”

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