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Facebook Uses Data on Posts You Don’t Send to Figure Out How to Get You to Post More

Man, Facebook, why are you so needy? Sometimes we just don't feel like talking, OK?


Two Facebook employees recently wrote a paper describing how Facebook uses data on that super harsh dig you wanted to send to your in-laws but deleted before hitting send posts that we delete without sending to figure out how to minimize “self-censorship.” Right, because the problem with the Internet is people are censoring themselves too much.

Some people might be a little alarmed to hear that Facebook can see things you type and then decide not to post, which is not surprising when you consider that some things are better left unsaid. It’s OK, you can relax a little bit knowing that Facebook does not currently collect the text contained in unshared posts, though that capability certainly exists.

Instead, according to Facebook data scientist Adam Kramer and software engineer intern Sauvik Das who collected data from 5 million users to write their analysis, they collect data not on the content of the unshared posts, but on where and under what circumstances users decide not to post. (Status updates, comments on others’ posts, etc.)

According to Slate, a Facebook representative says that this data collection falls safely under Facebook’s Data Use Policy, which allows for collecting data on how users “interact with things.” Yes, they really use the word “things.” Here’s the clause in question:

We receive data about you whenever you use or are running Facebook, such as when you look at another person’s timeline, send or receive a message, search for a friend or a Page, click on, view or otherwise interact with things, use a Facebook mobile app, or make purchases through Facebook.

From there, they try to make assumptions about what led the user not to post, so that they can theoretically fine-tune Facebook in a way that removes whatever it is that is causing a user to keep something to themselves.

An example given in the paper states, “Consider, for example, the college student who wants to promote a social event for a special interest group, but does not for fear of spamming his other friends—some of who may, in fact, appreciate his efforts.”

Basically, Facebook sees all of your posts as beautiful and unique snowflakes that should be shared with the world, because the more you post, the more Facebook can target ads and get people engaged. We, on the other hand, wouldn’t mind a few less baby pictures or inspirational quotes in our feeds. No one cares what your cat did this morning.

If you see anyone freaking out on Facebook over Facebook reading unsent posts, politely remind them that that’s not what’s going on after you’re done typing in and deleting a few angry zingers.

(via Slate, image via Matt McGee)

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Dan Van Winkle (he) is an editor and manager who has been working in digital media since 2013, first at now-defunct Geekosystem (RIP), and then at The Mary Sue starting in 2014, specializing in gaming, science, and technology. Outside of his professional experience, he has been active in video game modding and development as a hobby for many years. He lives in North Carolina with Lisa Brown (his wife) and Liz Lemon (their dog), both of whom are the best, and you will regret challenging him at Smash Bros.