When I was 18, my girlfriend invited several high school boys to her house for a platter spinning party. If you’re younger than 25, insert the words “mp3 listening” for “platter spinning” so everyone can relate, and we’ll proceed. Being the jealous type at that age, I was not happy.
As I recall, she organized the party without me after we had some sort of spat. Exactly what it was about, I don’t remember. She was only 15, so it may have been over whatever it was that 15-year-old girls got bent out of shape over in 1967. Maybe she’d missed that week’s episode of “The Monkees.” But most likely it was because I was ignoring her by playing in a rock ’n’ roll band almost every night.
Anyway, I was not happy. So I hid in her backyard until long after 11 p.m. on the night of the party, crouching just beyond the halo of light emanating from the swinging doors of the beer garden next to her house, waiting for guests to leave. Then, I knocked on her door.
I also can’t remember exactly how I explained the fact I just happened to appear at her back door three seconds after the boys went out the front. She was smart even at 15, and I probably didn’t need to say I didn’t like her having boys over.
“Why do you think I did it?” she asked.
I should have known the answer without asking: She manipulated me.
We can find a modern approximation of my late-’60s morality tale in the recently revealed news Facebook once manipulated the content it fed to some users in an attempt to gauge their emotional responses.
For one week in January 2012, Facebook data geeks tweaked the news feeds of about 700,000 of its users, fixing it so that some people saw mostly happy statuses, while others saw content that was deliberately sadder than average. A study of the results revealed users who saw negative content were slightly more likely to respond with negative posts, while users who saw positive content responded with positive posts.
It’s good to know that, while no one seems to care that measles is making a comeback because many parents don’t think their children need to be vaccinated, Facebook’s transgressions are being met with widespread protest. How dare Facebook study us! If Facebook wants to get to know us better, it should at least spring for dinner and a movie. But the social network’s user agreement allows just such “research.” Don’t you remember not seeing that when you didn’t read the agreement?
Facebook manipulates its estimated 1.3 billion daily users in far more sinister ways – by making us believe everything we think must be shared with others, that a picture of our polished toenails is worthy of being sent around the world and having 2,467 online “friends” is a true measure of our worth.
Don’t like what Facebook is doing to you? Use the logic of a 15-year-old girl: Hold a platter party without it.
But when Facebook shows up at your back door, slam it shut.