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McClatchy-Tribune  07/05/2014 1:31 AM ET
TECH TOYS: Facebook, cede control to us [The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va. :: ]

July 05--SO FACEBOOK has been manipulating us like pre-PETA guinea pigs.

Again.

This time it played with the percentage of negative and positive status updates seen by 690,000 unwitting users.

Which means people were getting more of this in their news feeds:

"The bagel I had for breakfast was stale."

Or more of this:

"I had an awesome bagel for breakfast!!! In Paris!!!! Here's a picture of it!!! With the Eiffel Tower in the background!!!!! And a cute kitten!!!!"

Facebook determined that reading more stale-bagel type status updates made people feel bad. And the ones who saw more awesome bagel updates felt good.

Some were outraged by the fact that Facebook turned people into lab rodents for profit. Not me. Thank you, Facebook. This week's story made me feel better about social media and about humanity.

The studies I've seen in the news in the past have made Facebook seem to be a game of ping-pong between narcissism and freudenschade --sorrow over another person's success. People who spend a lot of time on Facebook have been said to get depressed because other people's lives seem better than theirs.

So a study indicating empathy for other human beings seems to be pretty good news.

Of course, what Facebook is up to involves figuring out how tweaking algorithms will make us more likely to click on links and buy products. We're allowed to see only a small percentage of updates from our friends and from the pages we follow. Facebook says it decides what we'll see so we aren't overwhelmed. How considerate.

What if Verizon suddenly decided you needed your phone calls screened and did it for you? What if it decided you needed to receive more calls from friends who drive Fords than friends who drive Chevrolets because Ford was paying for ads?

The real news here is how important it is that we be allowed to set our own filters for what we want to see and from whom. We need to become the masters our social media domain.

Facebook needs to stop making those decisions for us. If it doesn't, we should spend our time--and our money--elsewhere.

Michael Zitz lives in Spotsylvania County. Email him at mzbeckham@gmail.com.

 

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