Emotional Engineering: Has Facebook been messing with my mind?

Yes, I admit, I am a fan of conspiracy theories. In a nutshell, I prefer to watch over Big Brother, than letting Big Brother watch over me. Recently I viewed a Vice episode about Brazil’s Retaliation of FIFA, World Cup 2014, and the upcoming Olympics. A very surprising example of Digital Eyes of Mordor is the multitude cameras installed by the government in a few of most notoriously troublesome slums surrounding the World Cup stadium. The show argues that the cameras have been installed to spy on the population, as opposed to using these constantly live streams to respond quickly to gang activities and other extremely dangerous situations occurring in the slums daily.

But do we really need to go as far as Brazil to find some concrete reasons for concern relating to our freedom of opportunity? Not really! Although in its core, the Internet is supposed to allow us all to connect freely. Certainly, the “freely” aspect has been rapidly challenged in recent years. Concerns relating to Net Neutrality, for example, are on the forefront of many social media scholars.

There’s really no need going that far, though. Even if you are not a conspiracy theorist, I am sure you have also noticed how your personal information, Google searches, and location coordinates are being constantly pinging away all manners of personal data from your digital devices. Where does it all go? Some black cloud or the Death Star? I sure don’t know.

One of the creepiest things I have been noticing in the past year or so, is how Facebook “nonchalantly” reorganizes my feed, grouping certain updates together. Most of the time they are harmless, border-lining ridiculous. Nonetheless, the scrutiny over MY private info is disturbing. And I have often wondered about who makes the decisions regarding what I see on my wall, and what is it that I don’t get on my feed?

But it gets even worst! Apparently, in January 2012 “Facebook identified 689,003 English speaking users to run a psychological experiment on, for the duration of a week. They began to manipulate the newsfeed of a group of these users to remove posts with a negative emotion attached to them, and removed all posts with a positive emotion for the other group. The objective of the study – can we be emotionally influenced by what we see in our Facebook newsfeed? And if so, how much?” (Singh, 2014)

This tale gets even creepier. What Facebook has done is performing A/B testing-type experiment. Even though the ethics of such approach are certainly questionable, all the legal concerns are ironed perfectly in the company’s Terms of Service document all Facebook users must sign prior to starting socializing.

Sadly, Facebook isn’t the only social networking platform to use us as guenea pigs. On the Contrary!

“In fact – this is true for most (if not all) social networks. LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, Tumblr, Pinterest – all of these websites are designed and engineered to influence us to click more, engage more and interact more with them. The nature of their algorithms is never revealed, but one thing is always made clear – they’re doing all they can to give us as much relevant content as possible.” (Singh, 2014)

 Emotional Engineering

Photo courtesy Social Media Today website

   Yet the most disturbing aspect of such hidden, but ongoing experiments are focused on emotional engineering — which has been Facebook’s business model from the very start. (Singh, 20134)

In a way, Facebook proved that “by taking a group of close to 700,000 – proved that if push comes to shove, sway the opinion of the 1.3+ billion people that use the service.” So what happens if a “political candidate that’s backed by a network like Facebook essentially be able to get more votes?” (Singh, 2014)

Scary, isn’t it?

But are you really surprised?

 

 

References

Net Neutrality: What You Need to Know Now. (n.d.). Free Press. Retrieved July 1, 2014, from http://www.savetheinternet.com/net-neutrality-what-you-need-know-now

Singh, A. R. (2014, July 1). Facebook’s Been Running Psychological Experiments On You. RSS. Retrieved July 1, 2014, from http://socialmediatoday.com/avtar-ram-singh/2564701/facebooks-been-running-psychological-experiments-you

WatsApp & Facebook: A modern love affair

In the age of social media, we all desire one thing — to connect! Whether you are a single, middle aged motorcyclist, who is looking for love; or maybe you are a hip and upcoming high-tech company seeking fast and free promotion; and, of course, if you are a teenager who can type the address of their Facebook profile faster than I can type Jon Koum — who happens to be the founder of the world’s fastest growing social network, WhatsApp that will likely “eclipse all SMS traffic across the globe.” (Olson, 2014)

Last month I traveled to Chile to film a documentary. I traveled with my iPhone, though it wasn’t connected to a cellular network — when you are a starving grad school documentarian, you try to cut as many corners as humanly possible to save money — but I still could connect to WiFi for free. After a few days in the country, I was surprised to discover that while I would go to Starbucks to check what’s new on my Facebook page, my Chilean colleagues couldn’t take their fingers off of WhatsApp. I found it intriguing because I haven’t noticed it being much used in the US, specifically in the Chicagoland area.

WatsApp is a “cross-platform mobile messaging app which allows you to exchange messages without having to pay for SMS. WhatsApp Messenger is available for iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Windows Phone and Nokia and yes, those phones can all message each other! Because WhatsApp Messenger uses the same internet data plan that you use for email and web browsing, there is no cost to message and stay in touch with your friends.” (WhatsApp website)

Another cool feature of WhatsApp is that it allows users to “create groups, send each other unlimited images, video and audio media messages”. And all this is FREE!

At least for the first year. And after a free year of service WhatsApp would charge a ridiculously low fee of $ 0.99 USD per year. But this is not even the best part! WhatsApp is golden because they DO NOT sell ads! (Koum, 2012)

On the company’s blog, Jon Koum writes: “When we sat down to start our own thing together three years ago we wanted to make something that wasn’t just another ad clearinghouse. We wanted to spend our time building a service people wanted to use because it worked and saved them money and made their lives better in a small way. We knew that we could charge people directly if we could do all those things. We knew we could do what most people aim to do every day: avoid ads.” (WhatsApp website)

 

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Image courtesy www.Forbes.com

My Chilean friends are a small drop in the 470 Million sea of worldwide WhatsApp users. As Olson reports in her Forbes article from March, 2014, “Pretty much everyone in Hong Kong with a smartphone uses WhatsApp. In United Arab Emirates you can watch WhatsApp Academy on TV. In the Netherlands, where 9.5 million people (more than half the population) actively use it, “Whatsappen” is now a verb in the Dutch dictionary, meaning to send a WhatsApp message. Brazil’s professional soccer players use its group-chat feature to organize labor strikes during games.” 

The Funny thing is that the company has only 56 employees, and they don’t even have a sign on the door of its headquarters in Mountain View,” yet they are “one of the world’s most commonly used communication utilities after e-mail and the telephone and will introduce voice calling later this year.” (Olson, 2014)

So it’s no wonder that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg spent the past two years courting Koum in attempts to acquire WhatsApp, which has finally happened in February this year. No one is really surprised Zuckerberg was so head over heels for WhatsApp. After all, it “has been signing up a million new users per day since Dec. 1, 2013.” (Olson, 2014)

 I guess Zuck was so up for WhatsApp that he didn’t even care Koum’s interruption during Zuckerberg’s “Valentine’s dinner with his wife, Priscilla.” Koum came by the Mark;s house, saying he agrees to the deal, and “The two hammered out pricing and terms over chocolate covered strawberries.” (Carlson, 2014)

 

References:

Koum, J. (2012, June 18). WhatsApp. Why we don’t sell ads. Retrieved June 24, 2014,

from http://blog.whatsapp.com/245/Why-we-dont-sell-ads

 

Carlson, N. (2014, February 19). The Inside Story Of How Facebook Bought WhatsApp

For $19 Billion. Business Insider: http://www.businessinsider.com/the-story-of-facebooks-whatsapp-buy-2014-2#ixzz35a17enm8. . Retrieved June 24, 2014, from http://www.whatsapp.comhttp://www.businessinsider.com/the-story-of-facebooks-whatsapp-buy-2014-2

 

Olson, P. (2014, March 4). Inside The Facebook-WhatsApp Megadeal: The Courtship,

The Secret Meetings, The $19 Billion Poker Game. Forbes. Retrieved June 24, 2014, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/parmyolson/2014/03/04/inside-the-facebook-whatsapp-megadeal-the-courtship-the-secret-meetings-the-19-billion-poker-game/2/

 

Virtual Reality is the Next Frontier

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On March 25, 2014 Facebook announced it had purchased Occulus Rift for a stunning $2 bilion. Many in the tech industry where shocked by the announcement, some felt miffed whilst others treated it with cautious optimism.

For those who might be wondering what is Occulus Rift, here’s a brief breakdown below.

Occulus Rift is a virtual reality company, that started off on kickstarter. 

As you can see from the above link, it easily shattered its fund raising expectations, bringing in over 2 million dollars from independent backers. It basically is a head mounted display that allows the wearer to be immersed in a virtual creation, and whilst the founder Palmer Luckey initially intended it to solely function as a gaming device, it has slowly been morphing into more than that, showing that virtual reality has a lot of applications in our world today.

What is Virtual Reality you might ask?

According to this, “Virtual reality is the term used to describe a three-dimensional, computer generated environment which can be explored and interacted with by a person. That person becomes part of this virtual world or is immersed within this environment and whilst there, is able to manipulate objects or perform a series of actions.”

In layman’s terms, Virtual reality allows the user to interact in the virtual world he or she is immersed in.

As a kid, I remember one of the first movies that awed me was lawnmower man. I have provided a trailer for said movie, apologies in advance for how seedy it looks. The movie is quite dated now.

Lawn Mower Man trailer

The premise is a bit ridiculous, but basically this goes to show that Virtual Reality isn’t some new technology. In fact its been around for quite a while. Its just now, with Occulus Rift and a bevy of other big tech companies on board, it seems to finally be getting the acclaim it deserves.

Why would Facebook be interested in such?

Facebook is a company that is primarily concerned with data, and by data I mean social data. The more hours people spend on Facebook and its subsidiaries like Instagram and Whatsapp, the more they can sell said data. From all indications, Occulus Rift is going to be another property that should have similar effect. Currently the development kit goes for $350, which is less than Sony’s Playstation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One. By the time Facebook gets the product into final development and out to the public, the price should be even cheaper. That can only bode well for anyone who is yearning to get their hands on this technology. The cheaper it is, the more affordable it becomes.

Whilst this post has predominantly focused on the Occulus Rift, it should be made clear that Facebook and the Occulus Rift are not the only names in the Virtual Reality ring. Sony announced that its Morpheus headset would be working with its Playstation rig to bring the Virtual Reality experience to users. Also Samsung has talked about users being able to use future versions of its phones or tablets to experience V.R. as it is popularly called. Its only a matter of time before other companies jump on the wagon.

What Does Virtual Reality Mean For You?

As story tellers, V.R. opens up a world of possibilities for us. Not only does gaming become more immersive, but so does other technology. Can you imagine being able to participate in your favorite show? I envision detective or procedural shows where the user can actually engage and solve crimes. I think of sporting events and concerts where the user can be in their home yet experience these events like they were there in the flesh. With the 360 view Occulus provides, being in the moment takes on a whole new meaning.

In closing I leave you with this video, of this guy who got his first taste of Virtual reality. He seems pretty thrilled after wards. That’s how I feel every time I think about the possibilities for this technology. The future is here, and this is the new frontier.

REFERENCES

Facebook Buys Oculus Rift For $2 Billion. (n.d.). Kotaku. Retrieved June 21, 2014, from http://kotaku.com/facebook-buys-oculus-rift-for-2-billion-1551487939

Leonard, B. (Director). (1992). Lawn Mower Man USA: New Line Cinema.

Oculus Rift: Step Into the Game. (n.d.). Kickstarter. Retrieved June 21, 2014, from https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1523379957/oculus-rift-step-into-the-game

What is Virtual Reality?. (n.d.). What is Virtual Reality Definition of Virtual Reality. Retrieved June 21, 2014, from http://www.vrs.org.uk/virtual-reality/what-is-virtual-reality.html

Using the PlayStation 4’s virtual reality headset, Project Morpheus (update: now with video!). (n.d.). Engadget. Retrieved June 21, 2014, from http://www.engadget.com/2014/03/19/project-morpheus-hands-on/

Samsung is working with Oculus on a media-focused VR headset. (n.d.). Engadget. Retrieved June 21, 2014, from http://www.engadget.com/2014/05/30/samsung-oculus-partnership/

This Russian Guy Just Filmed The Best Oculus Rift Reaction Video. (n.d.). UPROXX RSS. Retrieved June 21, 2014, from http://uproxx.com/gammasquad/2014/04/russian-oculus-rift-reaction-roller-coaster-prank/

The Takeover: Instagram and Advertising

Hey digital mavens! Over time past couple of years we’ve watched with amazement as Instagram has grown to a global community with millions and millions of people who take photos and share these rare moments through Instagram.

I don’t know if you have noticed how certain brands we love have Instagram pages that are so flawlessly done. These advertisements you see feel as natural to Instagram as the photos and videos from many of your friends. I in particular follow Starbucks http://instagram.com/starbucks# :

ImageJust a glimse at their Instagram and your intrigue by their clever way of marketing the brand of Starbucks. I am always saying “Wow” how did they think of that photo or video. Starbucks is one of the brands that are marketing masters through Instagram, with 2.5 million followers Starbucks is a brand that knows how to market well on Instagram. The key of creating a creating such a postive look to a brand through social media is to connect emotionally with your audience.

On Instagram their are other companies who have took avadgtave of marketing on Instargram in the last couple of years. Since “Instagram – which was bought by Facebook for $1billion in 2012 – introduced ads to its US audience in November. In a blog post, Instagram said advertisers had positive results which “in some cases [were] well above the ad industry’s average for performance”. The app said it had over 200 million users worldwide.” BBC News This proves that marketing on a social app is something most brands should do. Getting closer to the consumer and creating an emotional connect through their brand is the best way gain exposure.

What I really love about Starbucks being on Instagram is that the vast majority of the images on Starbucks’ are fan submitted images of from locations around the globe. The company encourages its followers to post their own Starbucks photos, along with a campaign-focused hashtag to connect the visual content back to its brand. People can add comments and likes and build a whole conversation around the looks the fans have created. I have yet to have my personal photos of Starbucks posted on their page, but one day I know I’ll make it. ImageBut even if I don’t, I enjoy how such a brand can flawlessly connect with its consumer and build its momentum through such a digital driven world.  Oh man how I love the branding of Starbucks. Comment below digital mavens and share your insights below! 

Sources:

Gittleson, Kim. Instagram expands ads to the UK, Canada, and Australia. June 2014

http://www.bbc.com/news/business-27770941

Marketbook

To everyone reading this, you’re just a science project. You’re an experiment.

Every day we log onto social media to chat with our friends, to express inner opinions, to look at the new movie coming out, or even to “like” a new program. What you probably don’t know is that you’re part of a science experiment which is using everything you do, on your free to use social media platform, to create a profile for who you are and how you think. Ever write a status update on Facebook just to see your ads to change immediately to whatever you just typed about? That’s exactly what I’m talking about here.

In a PBS post by Angela Washeck, she quoted Douglas Rushkoff as saying that impressionable teens today have replaced their habit of plastering their personal stuff on their bedroom walls with now moved on to inhabiting social media and sharing their personality through there, but don’t realize how this is benefiting trends and brands (Washeck, 2014). Rushkoff’s newest Frontline documentary “Generation Like” explores how young adults are providing social marketing and advertising with treasure troves of information through their online interactions. Some, like Tyler Oakley, are getting “free” stuff in order to promote certain brands to their friends and/or followers (Washeck, 2014).

What we have perceived as “organic” viral trends are actually meticulously planned marketing strategies (Washeck, 2014). Do we really like these things or are we just monkeys running through the course in order to try and score “free” stuff and fame? While some are being given things for free, they really aren’t free. As these items or brands become popular, their publicity does the work for them. A couple of freebies handed out to some carefully placed popular online identities can turn into millions or billions of revenue for companies, so in a sense, they pay for themselves.

One of the questions being raised is whether or not this is exploitation. Not only have advertising pros learned exactly how young people share, but they’ve also learned just what drives them to share (Washeck, 2014). We, as consumers, are providing free data for marketers and advertisers without even realizing we’re doing it. Some may actually realize it though, and they’re profiting off of your shares and retweets. There is definitely more public relations work being done through this, but there is a lot of behind the scenes advertising as well. We, the consumers, are doing all the leg work without much benefit, unless you feel that the products you’re knowledgeable about now is your payment. According to Washeck, Rushkoff said, ““Over time, there will be a reaction against it…I’m kind of hopeful we’ll have another burst of awareness” (Washeck, 2014).

Knowing how we’re all essentially being manipulated through observation, how do you feel about this? Does this make you think twice about “liking” or re-tweeting something?

References

Washek, A. (2014, February 19). [Web log message]. Retrieved from

http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2014/02/rushkoffs-generation-like-explores-space-where-social-media-teens-brands-merge/

You Can View Your Facebook Search History

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There was a recent article on Buzzfeed (posted on February 28) that called attention to an interesting cache that Facebook has carefully stored away. If you go to your settings, click ‘Activity Log’ and then click ‘More’ until you see an option labeled ‘Search’. After you click on that, a log of all of the searches you have ever made since you joined Facebook will generate. So what’s the big deal? To me, this is a hugely interesting facet of Facebook from an anthropology standpoint – we all know that we can scroll down to our old ‘dark ages’ posts from when we first joined Facebook, but being able to see when and what we have ever searched tells a completely different story.

For one, it provides a huge opportunity for blackmail, or at the very least for nosey friends. Perusing this search log you can see exactly who and what you were obsessing about, and according to the blogger, “It is, of course, a terrible, shameful reminder of past whims, desires, boring queries, and any number of things that should never be and must be immediately killed with hellfire.” Obviously the author was not a fan. Luckily for those with obsessive compulsive creeping (don’t lie, you know you do it), you are able to delete your history.

So why is this information even stored? Facebook has been data collecting for advertising purposes since it was created – and all of the data they gathered was for a clear purpose: to either sell to advertisers or to better know the user (in order to most effectively advertise ‘at’ them.) This information, however, falls into the more ‘personal’ category and I can’t figure out what Facebook would want with it. And besides that, if it was just for the entertainment of the user to look at their past whims, why is the option so hard to find?

 

References

Warzel, Charlie. (2014). You can view your Facebook search history and it is the worst page on

the internet. Retrieved from: http://www.buzzfeed.com/charliewarzel/you-can-now-view-your-facebook-search-history-and-it-is-the