As many users know by now, Facebook routinely experiments with the structure of the newsfeed — that is, which updates its ranking algorithm highlights and which it down-votes or hides completely. Much of this experimentation is innocuous, but some of it has real-world consequences that extend beyond Facebook and into the disturbing realm of social manipulation: in the latest example, Mother Jones reports that the network tweaked the newsfeeds of almost 2 million users in 2012, and this experiment materially affected voter-turnout rates.
As Techpresident founder Micah Sifry describes in the Mother Jones piece, the manipulation occurred as Facebook was developing a feature it calls its “voter megaphone” — that is, a tool that allows users to post a prominent “I’m Voting” button on their profile in order to encourage others to vote.
Experimentation on or manipulation of users through tweaks to the newsfeed is a controversial topic for many…
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