Monday, June 30, 2014

It's Time to Start Reading the Terms of Service...Especially for Facebook

Earlier this week, a study was published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in which researchers had manipulated Facebook user's news feeds in order to test for a phenomenon called 'emotional contagion'. Back in January 2012, for one week, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, and Cornell University, paired with the Facebook data team to manipulate the news feeds of nearly 700,000 users. Using a computer algorithm, users were selected randomly, and then their news feeds were populated with more positive posts, or more negative posts. According to the study, users with more positive posts all over the news feeds posted more positively themselves, while the opposite was true for users with more negative posts. However, not a single Facebook user was told in advance, or even afterwards about their 'participation' in this study; so if you were feeling more happy or more depressed for a week in January of 2012, then this is probably why.

The real punchline to this story is that according to Facebook, everything they did complied with the terms of service and privacy policy that every user agrees to before creating a Facebook account. I think it's safe to say that the grand majority of people don't read those very long documents, myself included. If it really is true that Facebook's policies allow for user's data to be manipulated and studied in this way without their knowledge or consent, then it's time to at least start actually reading every terms of service you agree to, no matter how long. That's at the least, on the other end of the spectrum, many people are quitting Facebook and advocating for a general boycott of the social media giant.

Social media, and especially Facebook, have become essential parts of the lives of so many people, especially younger generations in college and high school. Having been a Facebook user myself for over 5 years, I can hardly imagine how I'd ever stay in contact with people without it. But, no matter how essential social media platforms force themselves to become in our lives, we have to remember that not too long ago, people got along just fine without them. In fact, whether or not you continue using Facebook and other sites, it's relaxing to get away from it once in awhile; go eat a meal by yourself and enjoy the scenery, or just spend the day with friends, face-to-face and without your phones. Social media is very important, especially for people in the field of public relations, but everyone needs a break from it once in awhile, just don't be afraid to take that break.

What do you think about Facebook's use of user's data? We'd love to hear from you!

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