Facebook has profited handsomely from national elections since first investing methodology in 2008, but only recently exposed for a Facebook experiment directly influencing Voter Turnout via manipulating User’s Newsfeed and Content distribution. Questions regarding possible manipulation during Mid-Term elections and beyond remain unanswered amid public admission that User’s Political data will be available to the highest bidder in time for the 2016 Presidential Election.
Facebook manipulated the news feeds of almost 2 million American users during the 2012 presidential election without telling them. The manipulation led to a 3 percent increase in voter turnout, according to the company’s own data scientist.
In a stunning revelation, the three months prior to Election Day in 2012 saw Facebook “tweak” the feeds of 1.9 million Americans by sharing their friends’ hard news posts rather than the usual personal posts. The effect was felt most by occasional Facebook users who reported in a survey they paid more attention to the government because of their friends’ hard news feeds. Facebook didn’t tell users about this psychology experiment, but it boosted voter turnout by 3 percent.
The experiment was first hinted at to the public in two talks given by Facebook’s data scientist, Lada Adamic, in the fall of 2012, and only more recently more details were uncovered and disclosed by Mother Jones. In those talks, Adamic said a colleague at Facebook, Solomon Messing, “tweaked” the feeds. Afterwards, Messing surveyed the group and found that voter turnout and political engagement grew from a self-reported 64 percent to more than 67 percent.
Michael Buckley, vice president for global business communication at Facebook, said the Messing study was an “in product” test designed to see how users would react with news feeds that were more prominent.
“This was literally some of the earliest learning we had on news,” Buckley told Mother Jones. “Now, we’ve literally changed News Feed, to reduce spam and increase quality of content.”
Buckley said the public will not receive full answers about that experiment until some point in 2015, when the academic papers are expected to be published.
It is not the first time that Facebook “experimentation” has been exposed for being conducted on Users without their knowledge.
In June 2014, it was revealed that Facebook tried to manipulate users’ emotions when toying with the feelings of 689,003 randomly-selected, English-speaking Facebook users by changing the contents of their news feed. During a week-long period in January 2012, researchers staged two parallel experiments, reducing the number of positive or negative updates in each user’s news feed.
“These results suggest that the emotions expressed by friends, via online social networks, influence our own moods, constituting, to our knowledge, the first experimental evidence for massive-scale emotional contagion via social networks, and providing support for previously contested claims that emotions spread via contagion through a network,” according to a paper published in the June edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Scientists (PNAS).
The Facebook users were not notified of the experiment. However, according to Facebook’s terms of service (to which every person agrees when they register on the social network), user data may be used “for internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement.” The researchers argue that their experiment was consistent with Facebook’s data use policy.
These Facebook experiments are raising eyebrows over the manipulation of voters, as well as the possibility that big data can eventually be used to “engineer the public” without the public’s knowledge, according to sociologist Zeynep Tufekci.
“At minimum, this environment favors incumbents who already have troves of data, and favors entrenched and moneyed candidates within parties, as well as the data–rich among existing parties. The trends are clear. The selling of politicians — as if they were ‘products’ — will become more expansive and improved, if more expensive,” said Tufekci in a report on the peer-reviewed journal First Monday.
“In this light, it is not a complete coincidence that the ‘chief data scientist’ for the Obama 2012 campaign was previously employed by a supermarket to ‘maximize the efficiency of sales promotions.’ And while the data advantage is held, for the moment, by the Democratic party in the United States, it will likely available to the highest bidder in future campaigns.”
Given the fact it took three years to expose the fact Facebook conducted an ‘experiment’ that had direct, measurable results on an actual Presidential election and their more recent gaming with Users this year being exposed only by accident, who is to say that there was not any such manipulation with Voters, opinion, or Voter turnout in the Mid-Terms?
DATA MINING GOES RETAIL AS ‘DATA HANDLING’
The world’s largest social network has closed a deal to provide aggregated data about Americans’ political views to website Buzzfeed and ABC News, for their coverage of all US elections up to and including the presidential vote in 2016
Facebook will automatically monitor the political expression of all of its adult US users – from what they put down on their form, to what news articles they ‘like’ or how they vote in online polls, and even who they mention in their posts – and then match the information up with the users’ age, gender and location, to get insight into the minds of millions of potential voters.
More than a third of all Americans log onto Facebook at least once a day.
“Given the volume of conversation around politics on Facebook, we believe this data truly represents what the American people think about the potential candidates. We’re excited to partner with ABC News and BuzzFeed News, who will both bring their unique journalistic perspective to this data,” said a statement from Andy Mitchell, Facebook’s Director of News and Global Media Partnerships.
ABC News will start using the data from Facebook as soon as next week as part of their 2014 Election Day coverage. It will also focus on possible 2016 presidential candidates.
“This rich trove of data will allow us to do just that — helping us identify the most important trends and the most stimulating conversations happening around the 2016 election cycle,” ABC News president James Goldston said in a statement, as quoted by Politico magazine.
“Facebook is going to be a central — maybe the central — arena in which political conversation happens in 2016. We’re thrilled to have a glimpse at what America is thinking, and excited to share it broadly with our readers,” claimed BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith.
The CrossOver of ‘Social Media’ into ‘Social Tinkering’ seems to be complete.
How far will Facebook and their nefarious agenda progress before it is held accountable? Certainly the gauntlet has been thrown, and it is only a matter of time before ignored accountability becomes apparent precedence others will undoubtedly follow … but then, that is just my opinion. Again.