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Forget empty promises and stop experimenting on us, Facebook!

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Facebook research

Every so often weeks pass when frequenting Facebook makes me feel dirty; almost like eating a jumbo doner kebab with extra garlic mayo and chilli sauce.

At the time it feels satisfying, but it doesn’t sit well. In the aftermath, I can’t help but think, ‘I really shouldn’t be doing this to myself anymore.’


Right now I’ve had a belly full and one incident this week in particular has impacted my ever-flowing binge/purge relationship with Facebook.

On Thursday, the company’s chief technology offer issued a very nicely worded blog, expressing the firm’s regret and promising changes after conducting highly unethical psychological mood experiments on almost 700,000 unwitting participants.

In case you need a little refresher, this summer researchers tinkered with the News Feeds of its guinea pigs (that’s us, guys!) in order to display more positive or negative posts. The results showed users were more likely to post updates in line with the emotions displayed on their feed. Quite simply, it was mood manipulation on a massive scale.

Apparently Facebook didn’t realise publishing the research would rub people the wrong way, claiming it was ‘unprepared for the reaction.’ The firm apologised at the time and promised to alter methods.

Which brings us nicely to this week and Mike ‘Shrep’ Schroepfer’s statement. The CTO said Facebook had ‘taken the comments to heart,’ ensured users something like this wouldn’t happen again and yadda, yadda, something about being more responsible, yadda.

Oh great. So you’re going to halt psychological experiments that alter the mood of users without telling them, Mike?

Erm not exactly, mates.

Actually, Mike and his pals are going to keep experimenting on users whenever they want, under the guise of ‘building a better Facebook,’ In this instance, all they are really doing is putting a couple of non-descript checks and balances in place to fob everyone off.

You see, amid all of that glad-handing and tiptoeing, Facebook hasn’t actually said anything or promised to do anything quantifiable.

Firstly. It has “given researchers clearer guidelines.” Oh so you actually have guidelines now? Congratulations.

Secondly, experiments that deal with personal emotions must now go through an “enhanced review process”. Did you hear that? An enhanced review process. I feel better already.

Thirdly, the firm has “incorporated education on our research practices” into its training program for new engineers. I wonder how many hours of class time it will take to pass the ‘How Not To Be A Socially Irresponsible Dickhead’ module?

Lastly, it was vowed to publish all of its research on its research website (because where else would it go). Great work guys! You’ve really redeemed yourselves in my eyes!

What exactly are those new guidelines it speaks of? What’s so enhanced about this review process? What’s contained within the education program for engineers that’s going to make a difference? Am I supposed to just trust that they won’t deliberately try to ruin my day by filling my feed with only negative posts?

“We want to do this research in a way that honors the trust you put in us by using Facebook every day. We will continue to learn and improve as we work toward this goal,” the firm wrote.

That’s right there is a textbook, empty corporate response you’ve seen a thousand times. It uses those ever-ready ‘learn,’ ‘improve’ and ‘work,’ buzzwords and promises to ‘honour the trust’ we no longer have. Honestly, the whole blog is a perfect example of how easy it is to use a lot of words without actually saying anything.

You want to honour our trust, Facebook? Drop the excuses, explanations and empty pledges and just stop experimenting on us without telling us. It really is that simple.

The last thing I, or anyone else needs is you people outright trying to make us sad every time I log in. The very fact that I'm still using Facebook is enough to negatively effect my mood as it is!

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meerkat82

October 5, 2014, 11:32 am

It's good people are becoming disillusioned with large corporations and governments but to think they are going to change because people ask that they do is as naive as asking a manic depressive to cheer up! People need to use their inherent power and look for and create alternatives. what has made facebook so powerful is the multitude of people that have signed up. We, the people can bring them to their knees by moving on (anyone remember myspace?)

Prem Desai

October 5, 2014, 4:44 pm

The Facebook concept is brilliant and I can understand why so many users have signed up to use it.

As a corporation, Facebook is beyond a joke. They do not have any sense of responsibility with the data they have and are just plain careless with it, as has been proven time and again.

It's time for people to speak and leave ...

I'm still waiting for my account to be deleted after more than 2 years ....

PGrGr

October 6, 2014, 11:54 am

Sorry to disagree, Chris, but I think you are being naive. Facebook hasn't shown all posts from all friends in your newstream for ages, so there have always been heuristics determining what gets shown. How do you think those heuristics were formed? Experimentation!

FB has always been experimenting on you, in the same way that Tesco does when they rearrange the aisles and the points brochures they send you. Tesco (and supermarkets in general) are working out what you respond best to in order increase their sales. FB are working out what you respond best to in order increase your engagement in the site.

Honestly, I can't see a problem with what they have done and would be disappointed with anything less.

I do agree with you, though, that the public statement is a poorly worded sop.

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