Facebook: Quit playing games with our hearts.

Feeling down? Lacking that certain “joie de vivre”? It could be because that baby on your flight won’t stop crying, you’ve just burned the tip of your tongue on your morning coffee or something much more sinister could be at play.

On your way into work this morning, as you peered down at that pocket-screen you like to call a smart phone something didn’t seem right. Flicking through your Facebook news feed everyone seems so blue. Although come to think of it, others in your office were literally whistling to their desks. Bizarre. So suspicions raised, let us go to the drawing board. Turns out, Facebook was playing games with your heart.


So when a Facebook User (that’s you, unless you’re cool) logs into Facebook, the first thing you see is your news feed, a whole list of status updates e.g. “feeling blessed”, photographs of your successful friends on another incredible holiday in a location just like your screensaver and Advertising Content that you subscribed to. Your news feed isn’t random or all-inclusive, but it is mysteriously “Curated” using Facebook’s proprietary algorithms. This dictates what you see.

With great power, comes great responsibility. A research paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences  let it slip that in Jan 2012, Facebook researchers deliberately manipulated what 689,003 Users saw when they logged in. Some people saw content with a happy and positive tone, others were shown content of a negative and depressing nature. The researched revealed that after the testing week was complete, the test guinea-pigs were more likely to post content in the same vein as what they had been fed. Positive or negative respectively.

Statistically the effect on users in the trial was fairly small  but at the end of the day, Facebook has shown that it could invariably control people’s emotions!  So was this unethical? Was this illegal? Did it violate the sacred Facebook T&Cs? Panic set in globally. Corporations don’t really “do” ethics and Facebook’s T&Cs require Users to accept that their data may be used for “Data Analysis, Testing and Research.”

Some of Facebook’s statements around this activity have been hovering around the  sentiment that “Facebook (your buddies) are just watching your back and making sure things are all good while you enjoy their service. It’s gonna be super-positive. Hug it out?” Whereas Facebook can access every, single, piece of your information. They can examine how you might react in an argument with your partner through messenger at work. They can look at how likely you are to click an advertisement for that diet-supplement floating beside your attractive friend’s holiday snaps. They can even monitor the patterns of all the relationships you have. Depending on the amount of information you are willing to share. In today’s naive sharing culture, that can be a whole lot.

So how do we find out who is looking in our virtual windows? This is how. Using the Digital Advertising Alliance opt out tool, you can easily see who is targeting you and opt-out of online targeting. This however must be done on all browsers/computers/devices you use. Other digital advertising networks that use targeted ads require different steps to opt out. Yikes! The hassle of all of that. From June 12 2014, Facebook rolled out the decision to sell your information to third party advertisers, including your name/age/location/everything if that’s cool with you? No? Check out this friendly, totally human video.

At this point regulation and laws around big data are non-existent. Data enables large  corporations to create portfolios on individuals by compiling all of the digital traces left by us online. The thought of Digital Emotional Manipulation must leave media agencies and corporate advertisers salivating. Emotional advertising is a powerful tool in the playbook of marketers. One of the true masters of emotional advertising is Hal Riney, creator of the 1986 Reagan Presidency TV Ads “Morning in America again” here is a look at his work.  As humans we are emotional creatures and still react to this form of heart string tugging content. This Guinness TV ad was rolled out on the 4th of July with huge impact seen online.

So as advertisers get in-touch with your feelings, maybe we should ask ourselves, who is using who?




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