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July 03, 2014

Hm! Was the Department of Defense Funding FaceBook's Emotion-Tracking-and-Manipulation Experiment?

Very interesting idea hatched at this site, "DefenseOne.com."

I have no idea if this is true, but it sounds plausible.

Critics have targeted a recent study on how emotions spread on the popular social network site Facebook, complaining that some 600,000 Facebook users did not know that they were taking part in an experiment. Somewhat more disturbing, the researchers deliberately manipulated users' feelings to measure an effect called emotional contagion.

Though Cornell University, home to at least one of the researchers, said the study received no external funding, but it turns out that the university is currently receiving Defense Department money for some extremely similar-sounding research -- the analysis of social network posts for "sentiment," i.e. how people are feeling, in the hopes of identifying social "tipping points."

The tipping points in question include "the 2011 Egyptian revolution, the 2011 Russian Duma elections, the 2012 Nigerian fuel subsidy crisis and the 2013 Gazi park protests in Turkey," according to the website of the Minerva Initiative, a Defense Department social science project.

Itís the sort of work that the U.S. military has been funding for years, most famously via the open-source indicators program, an Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) program that looked at Twitter to predict social unrest.

If you have huge amounts of data from millions of people, you can predict a lot of things, or detect subtle things, like, for example, a more virulent strain of the flu breaking out in the South. If you have huge amounts of data, you can see that more people are complaining of the flu, and complaining longer, etc.

But you need huge amounts of data to do this.

Previously, there did not exist a platform in which millions upon millions of people voluntarily self-reported their emotional states, states of health, consumer interests, political leanings, or attitudes towards the government, police, and various other forces of government control.

But now, of course, there is.

As the article suggests, expect more of this. A lot more.

My initial guess on the FaceBook scandal was that it was funded by think-tanks serving corporations, and that they were trying to discover the emotional state that would most likely lead to a sale. I've seen feminists, for example, claiming that advertisers deliberately alarm women or make them feel bad, believing that if someone is depressed or worried, they will make an impromptu purchase in order to comfort themselves.

It might still be that, but now I'm thinking it's likely this Not-So-Distant Early Warning intelligence operation.

Actually it could well be both -- I imagine these psychological insights are useful for both intelligence analysts and corporate sales teams.

Creepy, and also very interesting.


Cynical Truth of the Day: Thanks to Dedicated 10nther, this aphorism offered by someone calling himself "blue_beetle:"

"If you're not paying for something, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold."


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posted by Ace at 02:00 PM

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