I don’t generally express opinions, this is not the scope of my blog. But I have always been fascinated as social engineering was always seen as part of the “hacking” process. First hackers used social engineering quite a lot; anyone found of security read the story of Kevin Mitnik when young? A lot of his work involved social engineering, rather than pure hacking. And how not to mention the controversial Stanford experiment?
Many similar stories I am sure can be told and I won’t go through them here, but human manipulation is an extremely fascinating topic (though spooky): hacking the human being.
Now, the discussion is around the latest research made by Facebook on how emotions can be ‘propagated’ and Facebook, by filtering negative emotions (friends posts), can manipulate the mood of the readers.
Why could this worry some?
Facebook is perceived as some kind of big brother (not going there, many sites expand on the topic), and this kind of manipulation is considered ‘evil’. The way I see it, this could be an ingenious way to improve sales.
Mood manipulation has always been used for sales – from the car salesman, to tv adverts – showing an image to the possible buyer that pleases him/her (like, an unlikely grateful kid because the mom used a new washing powder, or the car salesman asking the possible buyer to imagine him/herself driving the new car with all comforts). Putting people in a good mood helps selling in general; making people panic could help selling some other products (say, a pepper spray).
The problem here is that whenever we see an advert, or go and buy a car, we go in “defensive mode” so, we are expecting to be tricked. This time this happened without us being ‘conscious’; but are we sure this is news?
Let’s think now about something very common in Hollywood: product placement (i.e. when the cool, main character opens the fridge and drinks a fresh cola). Isn’t this the same principle?
As TV viewers decline, this is where the big bucks are, and I see Facebook research as just the next, logical step to product placement. After all, for the new generations, Facebook and youtube are the new TV, only this time product placement can be more emotional, personalised – hence more effective.
So, is avoiding Facebook the answer? This is up to the reader.
Facebook will just have more ‘manipulation’ power, as the filtered information will come from our friends; but thinking that the problem is and will be limited to Facebook would be naive. Cookies and IP addresses are continuously collected, and our information is gathered online regardless of Facebook. All in all, it is important for the user to limit the shared information and remember that internet as a whole is mined by advertising. So, next time we want to hear an unbiased opinion, it might be best to just ring our friend, and just expect, whenever we switch on a monitor or a tv, to be bombarded by ads…