Facebook enables people to communicate with friends, display their family photos, maintain contacts, and keep track of events and dates.
Facebook doesn’t have to rely on interpreting internet click behaviour to get information about consumers, it just asks them about themselves. Users are encouraged to post everything about themselves from what they have for breakfast to who they are dating as well as links from other websites and photos. “Facebook had the largest photo collection in the world.”
Facebook claims to have 1.8 billion users worldwide and it is seeking to expand that number, particularly in the developing world. More than a billion people access Facebook each day. There are 16 million Facebook accounts from Australia. It also has 5 million active advertisers.
Facebook’s is worth over $400 billion, with income in 2016 of over $27 billion, making it one of the world’s most valuable companies. Facebook makes most of its money through advertising and so it goes to great lengths to keep users online for longer and exposed to advertisements as well as gathering information on users to enable advertisers to target them. “The closely guarded secret of its success are the complex algorithms Facebook uses to track our preferences, even our moods to keep us online longer, to consume the ads that turned Facebook into the biggest advertising platform in history.”
Reference: Adam Helfgott in Peter Grest, Janine Cohen and Anne Davies, ‘Cracking the Code.' Four Corners, 10 April 2017.
Well if you've ever logged into Facebook it'll—and with your, with any of your browsers it—it's a good chance it'll know it's you. You don't have to be logged in, you just—you have to have been there at some point in time and if it's a brand new computer and you've never logged into Facebook, you know, Facebook at that moment in time won't know it's you, but based upon you know, their algorithms and your usage they'll figure it out.
So even if you’re not a Facebook member, Facebook can track and store your browsing history, whether you like it or not. Facebook enables website developers to insert coding into websites and then advertisers can use Facebook data to find out who is looking at the website and how to target advertisements to them.
Reference: John Herrman. ‘Inside Facebook’s (Totally Insane, Unintentionally Gigantic, Hyperpartisan) Political-Media Machine.’ The New York Times Magazine. 24 August, 2016.
Before social media, web publishers could draw an audience one of two ways: through a dedicated readership visiting its home page or through search engines… publishers soon learned that a widely shared link could produce substantial traffic. In 2010, Facebook released widgets that publishers could embed on their sites, reminding readers to share, and these tools were widely deployed. By late 2012, when Facebook passed a billion users, referrals from the social network were sending visitors to publishers’ websites at rates sometimes comparable to Google, the web’s previous de facto distribution hub.
This trend was intensified with the increasing use of smartphones that enabled people to constantly connect with Facebook.
Originally Facebook was an exclusive networking site for college and university students but ther terms of agreement have been progressively changed to allow more and more incursions into users' privacy. "By 2014, anything a user’s friends could see was also potentially visible to the developers of any app that they chose to download."
According to Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, to have more than one identity or image that you project depending on whether you are with work friends or family or social friends shows a lack of integrity. Facebook seeks to know who you are and everything about you so that your Facebook identity is singular and comprehensive and shapes your whole online experience and much of your offline experience too.
However, the version of your identity that Facebook compiles, based on what you choose to share on the internet, is necessarily partial and most probably a distorted one.
Reference: Eli Pariser. The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You. New York: Penguin. 2011, p. 157.
Facebook also surmises a user’s ethnicity or race according to their Facebook behaviour, their friends, their interests and the organisations they belong to. This is used to target marketing, and is referred to as “ethnic affiliation” marketing. “Facebook currently offers advertisers four ethnic demographics: non-multicultural (presumably meaning white users), African American, Asian American, and Hispanic.” For example, people viewing a trailer for the biopic Straight Outta Compton were shown different trailers according to whether Facebook thought they were black, white or Hispanic.
In 2014 Facebook undertook an experiment on almost 700,000 randomly chosen Facebook users, without their permission or knowledge. The researchers argued that the research was “consistent with Facebook’s Data Use Policy, to which all users agree prior to creating an account on Facebook, constituting informed consent for this research.”
Reference: Adam D. I. Kramer, et al. ‘Experimental Evidence of Massive Scale Emotional Contagion through Social Networks.' PNAS 111 (24). 17 June, 2014.
In an experiment with people who use Facebook, we test whether emotional contagion occurs outside of in-person interaction between individuals by reducing the amount of emotional content in the News Feed. When positive expressions were reduced, people produced fewer positive posts and more negative posts; when negative expressions were reduced, the opposite pattern occurred. These results indicate that emotions expressed by others on Facebook influence our own emotions, constituting experimental evidence for massive-scale contagion via social networks.
The experiment purposely biased the user’s news feeds to be more positive or more negative and then monitored their moods using its algorithms. It concluded that the more positive the newsfeed users received the happier they appeared to be and the more negative the newsfeed, the more depressed the user. In other words, Facebook has the power to influence users’ moods.
One purpose of experimenting with the emotional content of newsfeeds was to find out “whether posts with more emotional content are more engaging” and they found that people exposed to fewer emotional posts, whether positive or negative, were less engaged on Facebook in the following days.
With new methods of “sentiment analysis, it’s now possible to guess what mood someone is in. People use substantially more positive words when they’re feeling up; by analyzing enough of your text messages, Facebook posts, and e-mails, it’s possible to tell good days from bad ones, sober messages from drunk ones (lots of typos, for a start). At best, this can be used to provide content that’s suited to your mood... knowing that particular customers compulsively buy things when stressed or when they’re feeling bad about themselves, or even when they’re a bit tipsy… it could also enable politicians to make appeals based on each voter’s targeted fears and weak spots… In the wrong hands, persuasion profiling gives companies the ability to circumvent your rational decision making, tap into your psychology, and draw out your compulsions.
In 2017 The Australian uncovered a confidential internal Facebook document that revealed how the organisation was using complex algorithms to identify “moments when young people need a boost” so that advertisers could target them when they were most vulnerable. Facebook monitored the posts, pictures and other Facebook activity of 6.4 million teenagers as young as 14 to work out when they were feeling “stressed”, “defeated”, “overwhelmed”, “anxious”, “nervous”, “stupid”, “silly”, “useless”, and a “failure”. Facebook’s database includes “1.9 million high schoolers with an average age of 16, 1.5 million tertiary students averaging 21 years old, and 3 million young workers averaging 26 years old”.
Reference: Darren Davidson. ‘Facebook Targets 'Insecure' to Sell Ads.’ The Australian. 1 May, 2017
Granular information available to advertisers includes a young person’s relationship status, location, number of Facebook friends they have and how often they access the platform via mobile or desktop… Other moments in young people ’s lives Facebook is seeking to sell ads against are associated with “Looking good and body confidence”, and “Working out & losing weight”.