When Facebook (FB) first launched in the early 2000s, it was intended as a college student directory created by Mark Zuckerberg. In 2006, FB became available to the public, changing the integrity of the site. In 2017, a documentary rolled out that goes a bit in depth about the manipulation tactics FB, as well as its advertisers, use for monetary (and political) gain.
The documentary begins by telling how in 2014, a group of “Facebook scientists” conducted a giant social experiment with 700,000 FB users, where they deliberately flooded half the users’ timelines with either positive or negative news. The results were what to be expected — the more positive the news, the happier the users. That in and of itself isn’t huge news, but FB and its advertisers noticed how easy it is to target and manipulate users who frequent the site and how that led to the current events of the FB data breach.
When it was just for college students, FB was more of hangout type place. Phones weren’t what they are today, so students used digital cameras to take pictures from parties, gatherings and spring breaks, and FB was the only place to share our college adventures. It did seem exclusionary, in hindsight, but that could be considered part of its charm, and it was nice to be able to get into contact with old friends who went to different schools. In 2006, as long as you were at least 13 and had an email address, you could officially join Facebook and it drastically changed the site forever.
The psychological effects of FB are obvious; how many people have “that friend” who is constantly oversharing photos and posting status updates about how great their life is, talks about all the money they’re making and boasts of all the awesome vacations they get to take. FB is a virtual manifestation of “keeping up with the Joneses”, although the only one keeping score is said user and FB and its advertisers. If appearances on a shallow level mean so much to users, then it would be easy to monetize these users through manipulation.
The documentary explores how FB has the capacity to affect our moods and how that helps out companies with advertising. Typically, when users visit any site on the web that relies on advertising for money, there’s a constant stream of annoying ads on said site and it’s a turn-off. What FB realized is that as long as the ads are something of a user’s interests, say UFC ads and merchandise being shown because the FB user talks and has shown interest in MMA fighting, they won’t mind nearly as much. It’s like telling an offensive joke; everything is forgiven if it’s funny. Well, users don’t mind the ads on their newsfeed when it caters to their personality. However, due to FB compiling information about its users, which led to the huge story about its data breach concerning Cambridge Analytica, the documentary explores how targeted advertising is used to for manipulation tactics and influence over a large group of people. Like American voters.
Facebook: Cracking the Code is 40 minutes long; short, sweet and a much-watch. It is available ondemand at multiple platforms. For more info, visit the website here.