Since news of the Facebook mood manipulation study came out, the Internet has been up in arms, accusing the company of ethical wrongdoing. While CEO Mark Zuckerburg and the public relations department have not commented, second-in-command Sheryl Sandberg issued an almost apology.
“This was part of ongoing research companies do to test different products, and that was what it was; it was poorly communicated," Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, told The Wall Street Journal, "And for that communication we apologize. We never meant to upset you."
Let's be very clear: this is not an apology. Because she is not sorry. We have not received an apology from Mark Zuckerburg because he, too, is not sorry. Facebook is fundamentally in the business of mood manipulation, although it generally takes the form of targeted advertising.
Posting the status "I'm sad, but shoe shopping with my girlfriends makes me feel better" can lead to Zappos advertisements for high heels appearing on your page. "My partner and I broke up, I can't wait to be single" logically leads to dating advertisements. Facebook capitalizes on our mood shifts, perpetuating the feeling of happiness or sadness we have shared through bordered advertisements.
If a Facebook user who has gone through a breakup sees an advertisement for a dating service, they may logically become more upset. Their mood has essentially been manipulated by a targeted Facebook advertisement. On the other hand, promoted posts by Upworthy, and other happy-go-lucky, hopeful websites, can make us happier. These posts have been paid for, boosted into a user's timeline through no fault of their own. They can certainly cheer up a user. In various ways, Facebook accepts money to add a variety content to a Facebook user's timeline. Much of this content manipulates the mood, and advertisers bank on it catching our hearts and eyes enough to offer an all-important click or purchase.
While this form of, perhaps, indirect mood manipulation through Facebook's extremely profitable advertising platform has led to comparably minimal backlash, Facebook's one week experiment using a formal, scientific algorithm has led to mass anger. Facebook has not offered a true apology because to apologize for this institutional and arguably scientific form of mood manipulation would be to apologize for the very platform which keeps their business thriving.
If you don't want your mood to be manipulated by Facebook, don't use Facebook.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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