Last night I reconnected to Facebook after a multi-year hiatus. I left in anger over the revelation of Facebook’s secret mental health experiment in 2012 that targeted 700,000 users.. Facebook developers decided it would be interesting to see if they could alter user’s behaviors by creating algorithms to display articles, ads, and pages with emotionally negative keywords.
It turns out they could affect behavior. Specifically, the more users saw negative keywords in their Facebook feeds, the more they began to create posts with similarly negative content. I was outraged. I have a daughter that was in the midst of some severe mental health challenges and I knew she was addicted to Facebook.
She may or may not have been one of the 700,000 guinea pigs in Facebook’s “research”, but the fact remains that what we are fed by social media algorithms affects what we then “produce”. It turns out that even in the digital world we are what we eat.
Here we are, years later, now in a toxic political environment threatening our nation, and once again, it’s fueled in large measure by social media. It turns out that the political radicalization has occurred by Facebook suggesting and feeding extreme groups to users based on their past usage patterns. We are all just a “digital profile” based upon the aggregate of our clicks, likes, and time spent on a video, images, etc.
I’m here for now, but I’m aware and I will keep one foot out the door.
The story linked below from 2014 has more details about the psychological experiment, and how it was justified by Facebook.