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Originally published July 8 2014

Facebook ran covert mind games experiment on its own users

by J. D. Heyes

(NaturalNews) The digital age has not been kind to privacy, as both government and private-sector institutions and corporations have used electronic social media communications and interactions for self-interested purposes, and without our permission.

Social media giant Facebook is in hot water again for this very thing. The company has been outed for manipulating users' news feeds in order to gauge their responses and actions.

According to Bloomberg News, news feeds were distorted on more than 700,000 users' pages, once again raising privacy concerns at a time when millions are still fuming over revelations that the National Security Agency has been collecting metadata on virtually everyone everywhere at all times:

The number of positive and negative comments that users saw on their feeds of articles and photos was altered in January 2012, according to a study published June 17 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. People shown fewer positive words were found to write more negative posts, while the reverse happened with those exposed to fewer negative posts, according to the trial of random Facebook users.

Secretive manipulation

Facebook data scientist Adam Kramer, one of the study's authors, wrote on his own page recently that the research team was "very sorry for the way the paper described the research and any anxiety it caused."

Bloomberg News reported that the data gathered by the team showed that online messages influenced users' "experience of emotions," which could then affect their offline behavior. Some Facebook users turned to another social media giant, Twitter, to complain that the research was a breach of privacy.

"Facebook knows it can push its users' limits, invade their privacy, use their information and get away with it," said James Grimmelmann, a professor of technology and the law at the University of Maryland. "Facebook has done so many things over the years that scared and freaked out people."

In a later blog post at The Laboratorium, Grimmelmann added: "The unwitting participants in the Facebook study were told (seemingly by their friends) for a week either that the world was a dark and cheerless place or that it was a saccharine paradise. That's psychological manipulation, even when it's carried out automatically."

The Guardian reported that the study was conducted in conjunction with academics from Cornell and the University of California:

Facebook filtered users' news feeds -- the flow of comments, videos, pictures and web links posted by other people in their social network. One test reduced users' exposure to their friends' "positive emotional content", resulting in fewer positive posts of their own. Another test reduced exposure to "negative emotional content" and the opposite happened.

The easy fix: Cancel your account

"Emotions expressed by friends, via online social networks, influence our own moods, constituting, to our knowledge, the first experimental evidence for massive-scale emotional contagion via social networks," study authors concluded.

At least one British Member of Parliament (MP) is calling for an investigation into how Facebook and other social media companies manipulate emotional and psychological responses of users by providing them with select content.

"This is extraordinarily powerful stuff and if there is not already legislation on this, then there should be to protect people," MP Jim Sheridan, a member of the Commons media select committee, said in describing the research as intrusive.

"They are manipulating material from people's personal lives and I am worried about the ability of Facebook and others to manipulate people's thoughts in politics or other areas," he said. "If people are being thought-controlled in this kind of way there needs to be protection and they at least need to know about it."

The best solution to this kind of secretive eavesdropping and manipulation is to put social media sites like Facebook out of business by canceling your account. Until consumers begin hitting these companies in the pocketbook, the social experimentation at the expense of consumers won't end.

This kind of stuff is not okay when the government does it. Why is it permissible when it's a private corporation?


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