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In Case You Missed It: Why You Should Delete Your Facebook


In case you missed it, there’s been a lot of controversy around the Facebook “mind control” experiment released at the beginning of June.  The study, conducted in January 2012, sought to prove that emotional states, like happiness and sadness, are transferrable via emotional contagion without in-person interaction.  To test this theory, researchers altered the newsfeeds of 689,003 random users over a week-long period to show either more positive posts or more negative posts.

Research found that when Facebook analysts reduced the number of positive posts and increased the number of negative posts on a person’s newsfeed, those people were less likely to write positive posts and more likely to write negative posts.

Likewise if negative posts were reduced, people were less likely to write negative content and more likely to write happy content.  In other words, there was a weeklong period where Facebook manipulated the emotions of 689,003 people without their knowledge.  1984 anyone?

If that isn’t freaky enough, the government was in on the experiment.  One of the researchers, Cornell University’s Director of Communication and Information Science, Jeffrey Hancock is listed as one of the authors of the experiment.  If you don’t know him, he’s the guy funded by the Department of Defense program called the Minerva Initiative, a program that funds universities to model the risks and tipping points of large-scale civil unrest.

(This was all retracted, however, about 2 weeks later when Cornell University denied their participation in the study, claiming to only have had access to the results of the experiment.)

The experiment itself wasn’t even particularly well designed. The study used software tools that analyzed what statuses would be considered negative or positive without understanding the limitations.  For example, a status like “I am not happy” would have scored +2 for negative because it included the word “not” and +2 for positive because it included the word “happy.”  In other words, Facebook may have made you sad for inconclusive results.

Maybe the worst part is that this mind control experiment isn’t even the reason you should delete your Facebook.  You should delete it because, despite the uproar from Facebook users everywhere, this experiment was totally legal.  The Facebook usage policy, updated back in May of 2012 (approximately 4 months after the experiment took place) states data supplied by users could be used for research.  Supporters argued that software and media companies use this this kind of A/B testing all the time and tweaking algorithms is something that Facebook can and does do on a regular basis.

Aside from the fact Facebook is able to make you their personal lab rats without your knowledge, logging into Facebook each morning allows you to be tracked while you browse the web.   Also in their terms and conditions, if you’re logged into Facebook they log every site you browse that has a Facebook Like or Share button (which, if you do the math, is basically all of them).

Additionally, the Facebook app now needs permission to access your microphone and, if you read the terms, can access your microphone at any time, take pictures and videos, and record audio without your confirmation.  The app can take pictures and video with your camera and (this one is craziest) can call phone numbers without your intervention.  This means they can also use your minutes.  You pay for those.

If that isn’t enough for you to turn hipster and jump on the anti-Facebook train, I don’t know what is.

I’m one of the advocates of totally deleting your facebook, but I also understand that it’s hard to just cold turkey stop something you’ve been building for the last 7 years.

Lucky for us Facebook makes it pretty easy to come back to our addiction.  Meaning that if you delete it, you can resume your lurking just by logging in again.  Maybe when Facebook decides to be less creepy.

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