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Monday News: Facebook screws with its users, the Netherlands tests the...

Facebook Doesn’t Understand The Fuss About Its Emotion Manipulation Study – So Facebook, which appears to have zero respect for its users privacy, has also been intentionally manipulating content by way of “experimentation,” relying on the Terms of Service to compensate for actual informed consent. Worse, two academic researchers from UCSF and Cornell analyzed the data and wrote up the paper for a publication called the PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), an un-refereed journal that is nonetheless associated with the prestigious NAS. So many things wrong with this that it’s almost impossible to count, but there’s now a real concern that this experiment will serve as precedent for others like it – minus the public disclosure after the fact. A.V. Club initially broke the story, but I’ve used the Forbes piece because of all the updated information.

This weekend, the Internet discovered a study published earlier this month in an academic journal that recounted how a Facebook data scientist, along with two university researchers, turned 689,003 users’ New Feeds positive or negative to see if it would elate or depress them. The purpose was to find out if emotions are “contagious” on social networks. (They are, apparently.) The justification for subjecting unsuspecting users to the psychological mind game was that everyone who signs up for Facebook agrees to the site’s “Data Use Policy,” which has a little line about how your information could be used for “research.” –Forbes

The right to resell ebooks — major case looms in the Netherlands – Oh, this is interesting. Tom Kabinet, a retailer selling used digital books, is using a EU Court of Justice ruling from 2012 to justify its actions, while the Dutch Publishers Association (NUV), through its secretary general, Martijn David, is claiming threatening legal action and claiming that the retailer is “aiding piracy.” Although no court ruling on this issue is internationally binding, any legal consideration of this issue will likely affect how other countries approach the issue of reselling digital content.

On Tuesday this week, a local startup called Tom Kabinet opened the virtual doors on its secondhand ebook bookstore. At the moment, it is generally accepted that ebooks cannot be resold, as is the case with music, movies and other digital media.

However, Tom Kabinet is pointing to a 2012 ruling by Europe’s top court, the Court of Justice of the European Union, in the case of UsedSoft v Oracle. That case was about reselling licenses for downloadable software, and the court ruled that – even when the software license explicitly forbids resale – the buyer should have the right to resell that licence, just as they would be allowed to resell a boxed software copy. –Gigaom

‘AMAZON RISING’ PREMIERES JUNE 29 – Advertised as an “insider’s look” at Amazon and Jeff Bezos, the documentary premiered last night. David Faber produced this 60-minute program, and there’s a summary and a link to different national schedules here.

With more than 240 million customers, Faber reports on this powerhouse that has upended publishing, retail, and cloud computing, is poised to disrupt the supermarket industry, and faces increasing scrutiny as it extends its reach ever further into the fabric of American life. –CNBC

Celebrate romance with detailed Lego versions of famous Princess Bride scenes – While I was reading the Facebook story on the A.V. Club website, I came across this gem. While not a complete antidote to the Facebook mess, it’s a happy combination of Legos and Princess Bride. Although not very romantic, the Fire Swamp re-creation might be my favorite. –A.V. Club

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!


  1. library addict
    Jun 30, 2014 @ 04:07:05

    Another reason I’m glad I’m not on Facebook. I do miss out on a lot of book contests, but oh well.

  2. Lisa J
    Jun 30, 2014 @ 04:55:14

    @library addict: Totally agree, I’ll give up the contests on Facebook to retain my privacy.

  3. Michelle
    Jun 30, 2014 @ 05:55:59

    Dear author has a Facebook page. It all depends on how you use Facebook. Mine is mainly cat pictures and recipes. Facebook is also a good tool for some charities. Blind Cat Rescue is awesome. Also there is one called For the love of Alex, which helps fund treatments for pets with life threatening problems.

  4. Anne V
    Jun 30, 2014 @ 06:05:54

    Um, wow. Thank you for the Forbes link. That Facebook opted to manipulate users randomly and for gain isn’t surprising. That the Cornell IRB asked no questions is.

  5. sandyl
    Jun 30, 2014 @ 06:35:12

    The emotional manipulation on Facebook is not surprising. After all, I’ve “do not show” a lot of posts from other users that attempt to do the same thing–manipulate my emotions or tell me how “how it really is”. Really bad are the “soundbites” on political issues. Then there are the animal supporters who insist on revealing all the gory details…

  6. Trish
    Jun 30, 2014 @ 07:32:30

    This is a bit of an aside, but could I stand up for PNAS? Only members of the National Academy of Sciences can publish or sponsor papers in that journal, IIRC, hence its name “Proceedings of . . .” To be elected as a member, a scientist must have a career’s worth of peer-reviewed publishing to prove their ability. It seems important that good scientists with a lifetime of thought about their field have a venue to publish potentially out-of-the-box work. Most of what I’ve read in PNAS is inside-the-box, but the option is there for member scientists to publish whatever they feel is worth sharing. I’m not in the NAS, so maybe they have another rationale, but the option seems justifiable to me.

  7. Amanda
    Jun 30, 2014 @ 08:07:12

    I have been on Facebook more lately because of family issues and I have found Facebook to be a rather bizarre place. I get post on my timeline from people who are friends of my friends but who I have never befriended and other times I don’t see updates from friends until days after they posted them.
    Also I don’t like seeing advertisements for products I have shopped for online but I really don’t get the adverts for things I have never showed interest in, like dating sites.

  8. Elizabeth Langston
    Jun 30, 2014 @ 08:07:34

    My husband and I watched AMAZON RISING last night (because that’s how you roll when you’ve been married too long :)

    It’s amazing how successful that company can be without turning a profit. There were clips of Bezos saying that he was in it for the long-term, but 20 years seems pretty long-term to me. I’m curious when he expects the tide to turn.

  9. Ros
    Jun 30, 2014 @ 08:18:51

    I continue to be flabbergasted by people’s response to the FB thing. This isn’t a question of privacy, nor advertising, nor using its customer base as a corporate asset. All that stuff happens all the time and is the price you pay for using their service. But that isn’t this. This is intentional manipulation of people’s emotions in the name of ‘research’. I guess maybe if you have good mental health that’s something you can shrug your shoulders over and deal with.

    Not all FB’s users have good mental health.

    So let’s think about how that works. They are manipulating some people’s feeds with the intent of increasing negative emotions (and let’s be clear, when they set up the experiment they had no way of knowing how great an effect their manipulation might have had), including people with depression, bipolar, anxiety and a host of other mental illnesses. People whose emotional state is already fragile. People who might look to social media as a support through difficult emotional times.

    I don’t know – no one knows – what effect this experiment had on individual users. How many might have been tipped over the edge to self harm. How many might have been pushed back onto medication. How many committed suicide. As it turned out, the overall effect was pretty small, though the researchers claim it was statistically significant. But even with a small overall effect, who’s to say there weren’t outliers who were seriously affected? Playing with people’s emotions without their consent is not a fun social experiment. That’s people’s lives and health.

    For me, Facebook isn’t a safe place any more. Because not only did they do this, they also don’t seem to have ANY CLUE why it was so wrong. How do we know what other experiments they are doing right now or will do in the future? How do we know what the effects of those will be? I don’t know and I daren’t risk it.

  10. Sunita
    Jun 30, 2014 @ 08:39:56

    @Trish: PNAS is open to submissions from non-NAS members and has been for some time. It publishes a substantial number of articles by outsiders (none of the authors of the Facebook emotion study article are members of the NAS). NAS members submit through the channel called “Contributed Submissions” and they choose their own reviewers. This paper was submitted through the “Direct Submissions” channel, which is an open submissions process. An NAS member is assigned as editor, and she gets to decide whether the paper goes out for peer review or not (and who the reviewers are). This paper was not “sponsored” by an NAS member, at least the fact that is it labeled as a Direct Submission indicates that it was not. Direct Submission authors can suggest up to three NAS members as editors, but the Board can choose a different editor if they desire.

    [ETA: You may be thinking of the “Prearranged Editors” submission channel, where the authors coordinate with an editor in advance and that editor shepherds the paper through the review process. PNAS stipulates that this channel “should be used only when an article falls into an area without broad representation in the Academy, or for research that may be considered counter to a prevailing view or too far ahead of its time to receive a fair hearing, and in which the member is expert.”]

    The quality of the articles published in PNAS and its standing vary by discipline. Its publications are held in higher regard in some disciplines than in others.

  11. Trish
    Jun 30, 2014 @ 08:56:33

    Thanks, Sunita. Good to know!

  12. SAO
    Jun 30, 2014 @ 09:40:28

    Facebook is widely used, but turning that into a steady profit has been trickier. And given Wall Street’s demand for growth, when you’ve saturated your market, that’s getting more revenue from each user. I wonder if the emotion thing can or will be used to make people more susceptible to advertising. (Or in more euphemistic terms, optimize sales).

    Scary stuff.

  13. Sunita
    Jun 30, 2014 @ 10:28:44

    @SAO: One of the findings was that both negative and positive manipulation led to an increase in posting. The results were substantively small but statistically significant. There are a number of criticisms of the methodology, so take the results with a grain of salt, obviously. But I think a logical implication of the findings, if Facebook finds them valid, is that increased emotional content leads to increased participation (through posts). They want greater engagement because that makes their advertising opportunities more valuable.

    The way I interpret this is: a greater likelihood of more lolcats, more outrage-inducing posts, fewer neutral or non-emotion-driven posts in the feeds.

  14. Lada
    Jun 30, 2014 @ 10:36:24

    @Ros: This. Thanks for voicing what I’ve been noticing so eloquently. I was at a party this weekend and friends were irritated with me because I refuse to let them post pictures of me on fb. Their response when I tried to share this story was “everyone is tracking you anyway”. Grrr.

  15. cleo
    Jun 30, 2014 @ 11:03:47

    @Sunita – I was just talking with my brother about how great it would be if FB would automatically not show political posts by relatives in your feed, but your comment makes me think that FB would prefer me to read a rage-inducing political post by my father’s cousin. Although I just hide the political posts of my extended family and focus on the baby / vacation photos.

  16. Anne V
    Jun 30, 2014 @ 13:38:47

    @Ros: and the potential for impacting FB user mental health is why I’m surprised the Cornell IRB signed off or at least looked the other way. Because eek. Consent for FB to use your data /= consent to be experimental subject.

  17. jinni
    Jun 30, 2014 @ 14:30:26

    @cleo – my relatives don’t know, but I’ve tuned them all off on FB. Unfortunately more and more nonprofit organizations are using FB nearly exclusively for information purposes. I want to go back to plain old email.

  18. Janine
    Jun 30, 2014 @ 15:06:00

    Facebook’s actions are chilling. Yesterday, when Jane posted her article on Apple and Android wearables, I tweeted that it was the stuff of science fiction. This Facebook study, though– that’s the stuff of scary dystopians. It’s also alarming, to say the least, that Facebook doesn’t seem to understand why some of us find its actions upsetting.

  19. cleo
    Jun 30, 2014 @ 15:21:46

    @Jinni – as a busy introvert, I like using Facebook to keep up with my extended family. I think it’s a great way to find out about how my cousin’s children are doing, etc, without actually having to talk with anyone very often. I don’t want to turn off their feeds completely – just the political posts I don’t agree with (I do hide them, of course).

    The more I learn about how FB operates these days, the less I want to use it. But it’s still the easiest way to keep in touch with everyone but my intimate friends and family.

  20. Melisse Aires
    Jun 30, 2014 @ 20:23:17

    I hate the gory animal pictures and delete those all the time–they of course end in a plea for a donation. I think FB is thick with scammers, I’d rather donate to my local cat rescue than some unknown entity on FB.

    I can remember when MySpace was the cool place to be…

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