The PJ Tatler

Facebook's New Scheme to Manipulate Your Emotions for Profit

I loudly gave up Facebook last month, and decided to shift my social networking efforts to tweeting, shooting more Instagram videos, and exploring the potential of other emerging social networks: “7 Reasons Why Thanksgiving Will Be My Last Day on Facebook.”

Wired reported this week how Facebook is choosing to spend its money to develop robot babysitters for people supposedly too irresponsible to handle their social networking: “Facebook Envisions AI That Keeps You From Uploading Embarrassing Pics.”

Let’s say you’re out drinking with your buddies, things get out of hand, you pull out your smartphone, you take a selfie in the middle of all this drunken revelry, then you take 30 or 40 more, and, without hesitation, you start uploading them to Facebook.

It’s a common thing to do. But Yann LeCun aims to stop such unbridled behavior—or at least warn people when they’re about to do something they might regret. He wants to build a kind of Facebook digital assistant that will, say, recognize when you’re uploading an embarrassingly candid photo of your late-night antics. In a virtual way, he explains, this assistant would tap you on the shoulder and say: “Uh, this is being posted publicly. Are you sure you want your boss and your mother to see this?”

The idea is more than just an idle suggestion. LeCun is the New York University researcher and machine-learning guru who now oversees the Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research lab, a team of AI researchers inside the internet giant that spans offices in both California and New York, and this rapidly expanding operation is now laying the basic groundwork for his digital assistant.

Here’s the kicker, emphasis added:

The team’s deep learning algorithms now examine your overall Facebook behavior in an effort to identify the right content for your news feed—content you’re likely to click on—and they’ll soon analyze the text you type into status posts, automatically suggesting relevant hashtags. But LeCun and his team are also looking towards AI systems that can understand Facebook data in more complex ways—and guide you in directions you may not go on your own.

From Business Insider today, a look inside the emotionally manipulative approach driving the company: “Facebook: We Don’t Call Them ‘Users’ Any More, We Call Them ‘People’”:

The company also has an “empathy team” which is charged with helping its engineers and designers understand what it’s actually like to be a user, or a business paying for advertising.

Tech Crunch reveals the background game Facebook has been playing, quietly expanding beyond social networking, picking up tech companies left and right to figure out what they can plug into their user base to maximize profits (“Facebook Combines Atlas, Audience Network, And LiveRail Into An AdTech Voltron“):

So Facebook built what’s called Custom Audiences, which lets businesses upload their purchase data and identifying information about their customers to Facebook in a hashed, privacy-protected way. Facebook can both use this to let businesses target ads to their existing customers, but also to reference them against who saw ads to prove that impressions on web or mobile, even without clicks, lead to purchases.

Facebook also collects offline purchase data tied to people’s grocery loyalty cards and other identifiers through partners like Datalogix. The point of all this measurement is that when advertisers can see they’re getting a return on investment, they spend more.


The only reason why Facebook is as valuable and powerful as it is is because of its real name policy. In 2013, Facebook had $7.87 billion in revenue with 1.5 billion in profit. In the same time, Twitter made $665 million in revenue but did not generate a profit. In other words, the company has not yet decided to start screwing with its “people” and their emotions to jack up profits.

So why are you still wasting your time on Facebook? What’s your excuse?

image illustrations via shutterstock /