So it’s been another busy week for Facebook and their PR team. You only need to look on Twitter at #FacebookExperiment to see the reaction to the leaked story around experimenting with altering the mood of 700,000 users back in 2012, and it’s probably not what Facebook would have planned, given the recent press around users losing trust in the social network and brands struggling with reaching their audiences.
What people don’t necessarily think about is that Facebook and other big sites are making decisions like this every day; using data to improve their product, make users stay longer, do more on the site. It seems this story has grown through an emotional reaction to the Big-Brother hysteria type headlines I’ve seen on blogs these past few days. Truth is, they know so much about us already as we post our lives online, and will continue to use this information to improve their offering and keep us regularly going back to their sites.
What I find strange is the covert nature of the study. I’m sure if it was a public opt-in experiment with a control group, most of us would be genuinely interested in the findings. Tal Yarkoni commented on New Scientist stating that the study’s results are pretty statistically insignificant and don’t tell us much – it’s merely a look at our behaviour on Facebook rather than anything to do with psychological behaviour manipulation.
The ripple effect will be the real issue for Facebook though… How will this PR-Fail affect the trust of its users and advertisers in the future? It raises the question about what else are they manipulating? And to what end?