I’ve been seeing a great deal of brouahaha going around about the news that Facebook conducted a psychological experiment on users in 2012, manipulating their news feeds to see if showing them more negative content made them post more negative things, and likewise with more positive content.
I fall well and thoroughly on the side of THIS IS NOT COOL, FACEBOOK. Because while yes, we may have technically agreed to this with the Terms of Service we all clicked on to use the site to begin with, this is a step above that, and I feel it should have required serious informed consent for people who were selected to participate in this study.
If nothing else, I know way too many people who are dealing with a lot of hugely stressful situations in their lives, and in some cases, who are actively fighting depression. It is seriously, seriously not cool to put those people at risk by manipulating what news updates you show them, when they don’t need that kind of crap in their lives. None of us do, really.
Some of you may be saying “well yeah, duh, Facebook. What do you expect, they’re evil, we knew that already!” I grant you, this is the latest in a long line of NOT COOL things that the site has done, and I grant that continued use of the site puts you at risk for that kind of shit. I also freely admit that I get too much use out of Facebook to just bail on it on general principle. What then, can users do about this kind of thing?
For myself, I usually bypass any dickery Facebook wants to pull with my news feed (like the whole NO DAMMIT WHEN I SAY I WANT STUFF IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER I REALLY MEAN THAT thing that they seem to be willfully ignoring over and over and over) by putting all my top critical people into personal Lists, and checking those lists instead of the main feed. If you don’t know how to do that already, I recommend that as a workaround.
Also, I directly subscribe to pages I want to follow (for various bands and individual musicians) in an RSS reader. Which does still work, for the time being, and which is an argument for keeping an RSS reader around.
I don’t hit Facebook in any browser in which I haven’t installed an ad-blocking plugin. Because I have no interest in seeing any of the ads they’re likely to show me. And I also made a point of turning off auto-play on videos on my news feed, because SUPREMELY ANNOYING.
If a third-party site wants me to log in with my Facebook account, I will make a point of avoiding doing that, with a few specific exceptions. I don’t mind having Goodreads and Tumblr linked over to Facebook. Anything else I’m doing–especially anything I’m buying–again, Facebook doesn’t need to know.
Last but not least, I continue to be wary about what I put up on Facebook. Over and over, the site keeps asking me for things like “have you seen this movie?” or “have you read this book?” It wants to know where I live, what my phone number is, and all sorts of other things that, frankly, are none of Facebook’s business. I know that the site really just wants to know all this to data-mine me and figure out what ads to show me, but again, screw that. People who want to know what books I’ve read can follow me on Goodreads, which is the only place I need to be keeping track of that. Anything else about me, if I don’t post about it publicly, you probably don’t need to know. If you DO need to know, I will tell you.
So yeah. I’m not going to stop using the site–it’s too useful to me, and I talk to too many awesome people on it, particularly in Quebec music fandom. But I will use it with my eyes open, and I’ll continue to ask myself whether any given thing I post really needs to go up.
I encourage you all to do the same.