Why are we upset with Facebook?

Ok. So Facebook messed with our mojo and never told us about it.

If you’ve been living under a rock – or at Glastonbury – for the past few days, you might be forgiven for having missed the breaking news that Facebook conducted an experiment for one week in 2012, skewing nearly 700,000 users’ newsfeeds to be either happier or sadder than normal by making some sneaky adaptations to its algorithm.

Now I’m not exactly thrilled about this, and neither are you I’d hazard a guess.

But in actual fact, aren’t we manipulated all the time? There is no message at the start of an advert for Water Aid stating ‘Warning: This advertisement is designed to impact your emotions’. But we know it is, don’t we?

We intuitively respond to the signals that are put out into the world by individuals, brands and bodies all the time. Green means go, red means stop, yellow & black means danger. It’s called semiotics.

And in fact, every time we engage with a brand or charity, don’t we give our implied consent to the psychological pressure exerted over us by all of their marketing? We know that £1.99 is intended to be a more attractive price proposition than £2.01 and that promo girls are scantily clad because it makes them more appealing.

Some people talk of the 7 P’s of Marketing (yes, seven).

  1. Product
  2. Price
  3. Place
  4. Promotion
  5. Physical
  6. Process
  7. People

The product itself is perhaps the truest, since it is designed to meet a need and is, without all of the other 7 P’s, just a thing. But it is the job of every other of these things to influence purchasing behaviour.  

So what is it about Facebook’s experiment that we find so abhorrent?

Social media is the realm of sharing via ‘word of mouth’. We have multiple channels that we all use differently. I, for instance, use Twitter to voice my opinions, complain and congratulate. On Instagram, I can be a younger version of myself. I’m frivolous, vain and fickle. LinkedIn is primarily for work connections, a new business and recruitment tool. Pinterest for me is just a recipe book. But Facebook, at its very core, is all about friends. By extension, this is intended to be a safe zone, surrounded by people I know and trust. It’s not Twitter, there should be no trolls here.

So perhaps this is why people feel let down, shocked, outraged even. Because Facebook is the King of the social castle, and with great power Facebook comes great responsibility. We might expect this sort of sneaky behaviour from ask.fm, but not from you. 

Jo Furnival is Senior Account Manager at All about the Idea and Editor of the Big Ideas Blog. She understands consumer communications, social media and how to put together a compelling event. She writes in various places about travel and adventures, modern consumerism and digital media. Click on her name to find out more.

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