I’ve seen lots of people upset — on Facebook, of course — about Facebook’s social science experiment with people’s newsfeeds. However, I’ve yet to find an argument that’s compelling. Consider this one from Stephen Green:
Facebook has been described as an internet-within-the-internet, and the secret to making that work is it’s an internet curated for you by people you trust. To see something on your Facebook TL, it has to come from someone with a mutually-defined relationship, or from someone you trust enough to follow. Untrustworthy acts — like when somebody tags your name on something that has nothing to do with you, in order do win unearned trust and attention — are easily reported and corrected. The fact that Facebook uses this web of relationships, clicks, and behaviors to do some seriously creepy data-mining and ad sales behind the scenes doesn’t affect the strengths of the service it provides in public.
But for this to work, Facebook must remain neutral. What you see must be what your trusted friends have curated and presented to you. There can’t be any monkeying around with the Facebook timeline, any more than AT&T or Verizon can decide which phone calls you may receive, or when you may receive them.
Facebook is now essentially corrupt, and it did it to itself. First, they performed this “experiment” of altering timelines in order to assess possible mood changes they could affect on their users. Then, after the fact, they slipped new language into their Terms of Service allowing them to do more of the same in the future.
I agree with the point about the Facebook’s late change to its terms of service. That sucks. Yet the fact remains that Facebook has monkeyed around with the timeline for years in various mysterious ways. I don’t have access to the raw feed of just what my friends post; no one does. (That’s what Twitter displays, which is both refreshing and annoying.) For many years now, Facebook’s display has been extremely selective, only showing me a portion of what my friends post, based on some hocus-pocus algorithm, partly designed to increase my “engagement.”
Then, for this study, Facebook tweaked their hocus-pocus algorithm in a slightly different way… and then published the results. What’s supposed to be so new or so horrible about that?
Or, as Tom said: “I don’t get it. We’ve known all along that Facebook were manipulating the timeline for commercial purposes. They decide to do it once FOR SCIENCE! and suddenly everyone throws a hissy fit? Color me so not caring.”
Am I wrong? If so, tell me what’s so darn horrible about what Facebook did here!