• Michael Weeding

Social emotional manipulation

Unethical!! This is the standard reaction to the news that Facebook manipulated the feed of 600,000 users in an attempt to determine whether this would affect their emotional state. So is this response valid?

Facebook data scientists tweaked the Newsfeed algorithm of these users skewing the number of positive or negative terms displayed. The future postings of those users were monitored and the result suggests that emotional states can be transmitted across a social network.

A great outcome for social data scientists, a poor outcome for a social media industry that is already struggling to build a reputation around trust.

But is the view that this is unethical warranted?

Altering the emotional state of an individual is the ideal outcome of any successful advertising campaign. Psychologists have been selling their services to advertising agencies for years to help them determine the ideal way to deliver a message that is committed to someone’s memory or changes their opinion. From some of the research I have seen the best results are achieved through altering someones emotional state.

Apple are one of the masters of connecting with consumers through emotion in all their advertising.

So the issue here is that Facebook did not ask the users for permission to include them in their study, as a result they played a dangerous game as there is little known of the consequences of any negative emotions driven through this study.

The reality is that we live in a hyper connected world where data scientists are now employed to leverage the massive amounts of data we accumulating every minute of the day. The possibility that this is the first and only time we are going to hear about experiments like this is very slim, and do not expect to be politely asked for permission to participate, you gave that away when you accepted the sites terms and conditions.


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