Facebook- Now we’ve got you, you’re ours to sell!

Brooke PattersonBy Brooke Paterson

 

 

 

“I can understand why some people have concerns about it, and my co-authors and I are very sorry for the way the paper described the research and any anxiety it caused.” [1]

Adam Kramer, Phd, of Facebook
Adam Kramer, Phd, of Facebook

These were the weasel words of social psychologist Adam D.I. Kramer, PhD who works for Facebook. He has an enviable subject pool: the world’s roughly 1.11 billion Facebook users every month. [2] The other week he publicly, and somewhat sheepishly attempted to apologise for his and the company’s unethical behaviour.

 

FACEBOOK OPEN-STYLE OFFICES
FACEBOOK OPEN-STYLE OFFICES

This busy social scientist sits at a desk in the open with no walls. The facility is filled with colourful lounge areas and “micro-kitchens” where he and other staffers can bounce ideas off one another or seek input on a project as they take breaks or grab a snack. [3]

Sadly, his brainwave of turning people who use Facebook into unwitting lab rats either did not get “bounced” around with his nearby colleagues, or if it did, no one seems to have pointed out this was hardly a responsible proposal.

When what Kramer was doing slipped into the public domain—or rather the nasties hit the fan—he belatedly claims to have recognised the wrong doing, that the company had “crossed the line.”

Based on such as feeble excuse as an apology, it’s hard to believe this social scientist actually feels even an ounce of remorse for his actions.

Kramer, of course, played a central role and was heavily involved in the research study. In January 2012 this altered the “algorithms on News Feeds of almost 700,000 Facebook users for one week”.

Facebook algorithm
Facebook algorithm

Not many other social scientists get to play God with nearly three quarter of a million real human beings.

What Kramer was happily exploring was whether a mostly positive or mostly negative news feed would make a difference to the moods of users and the kinds of status’s they were updating. [4]

As with so many  ethical dilemmas in organisations, this one must have initially seemed hardly controversial, even reasonable. Certainly no one in Facebook flagged up the likely negative media attention it has since attracted.

But add in the salient fact that users had absolutely no idea they were subject to this invasive experiment and we’re looking at a slightly different story, one that has definite sinister overtones.

Facebook Users: Customers or Products?

Nor is this is the first time Facebook has been in hot water over unethical actions or shady business practices. Since the social media site was founded in 2004, there have long been questions over its integrity and intentions.

Should we be shocked by yet another scandal seeping out of the Facebook woodwork? As recently as 2013 the company was immersed in privacy rows for regularly and liberally selling the private information of their users.

Incredibly, the social media firm felt it was fine to allow advertising companies to have complete, and unrestricted access to users personal details. All in a hope of boosting profits and capitalise.

By using Facebook, are we allowing them to sell, dare I say it, us? All signs are certainly pointing in that direction. According to Facebook, there’s nothing wrong in this whole process. When this manipulation malarkey surfaced the company’s first response was to claim its actions were in line with current policies.

They relentlessly argued for example, the research they had carried out “was consistent with Facebook’s Data Use Policy, to which all users agree prior to creating an account on Facebook.” According to Facebook this constituted “informed consent for this research.” [5]

Such a strong statement can hardly be further from the truth. Yes, Facebook had research included in their data user policy. But only once the research had been created. Four months after, to be precise. [6]

This belated rationalisation is what makes the whole “Facebook Saga” so much worse. A continuous string of lies instead of an honest confession. Denial and backtracking, and no sign of a real or at least, believable apology.

This has done nothing for Facebook’s already-tarnished image. Was it purely a co-incidence that facebook sharesthe company’s IPO bombed and the shares fell through the floor? Memories are short though and the shares have since more than recovered.

This is a social media site which has taken a few blows and always managed to get back up. But this time, have they gone too far? Can they regain the trust of their previously loyal users? Who knows?  But one thing is for sure- they’re walking a very thin line.

SOURCES

[1] express.co.uk, 2014[2] Number of active users at Facebook over the years, Associated Press May 20th 2013, http://news.yahoo.com/number-active-users-facebook-over-230449748.html[3] American Psychological Society: http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2011/01/kramer.aspx[4] forbes.co.uk, 2014[5] forbes.co.uk, 2014[6] forbes.co.uk, 2014 

Brooke Paterson is a Politics and International Relations student, currently working as a Blogger and Social Media Marketing Intern at a recognized global leader in strategic marketing and business development. With a passion for current affairs and journalism, she aims to combine the two, whilst offering a unique and interesting point of view on the pieces she writes

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