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Facebook Outrage! Does It Spill Over to Marketers?

July 1, 2014 By Heather Fletcher
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Fear. Greed. Guilt. Anger. Exclusivity. Salvation. Flattery. Copywriters need to use these emotional hot buttons to spur action, Denny Hatch has been telling Target Marketing readers for years.

So why did Facebook need to research that topic and anger a percentage of its nearly 1.3 billion monthly active users?

Instead of using marketing content for its testing, Facebook researchers manipulated nearly 700,000 users' News Feeds by suppressing overly happy and overly depressing content from those users' friends. Published on June 2 (opens as a PDF), users first became aware of the research on June 27 in an Animal blog post.

Backlash ensued on Facebook, on Twitter and in more blog posts. Boing Boing even questioned the legality of the psychological experiment.

During the flap, the primary Facebook researcher on the study took to the social media site to basically say the ad-supported product needs to retain its users.

"The reason we did this research is because we care about the emotional impact of Facebook and the people that use our product," Adam D. I. Kramer writes on June 29. "We felt that it was important to investigate the common worry that seeing friends post positive content leads to people feeling negative or left out. At the same time, we were concerned that exposure to friends' negativity might lead people to avoid visiting Facebook."

Slate posits that, yes, the experiment proved Facebook can make users happier or sadder, but that the published research just makes everyone more mistrustful. For Sophie Weiner, the Animal writer, that lack of trust is already projected onto marketers who advertise on Facebook.

"Apparently what many of us feared is already a reality: Facebook is using us as lab rats, and not just to figure out which ads we'll respond to but to actually change our emotions," Weiner writes.

Other research shows marketers need consumer trust, sometimes more than they need to offer good prices.

 
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