What did we learn new about Facebook?

I’m feeling a little stupid right now. Maybe a little history is in order.

  • We’ve known since 2014, back when Five Labs used our Facebook posts to analyze personality, that when we shared our data with an app on Facebook, the app’s publisher gets our friends’ data, too.
  • It should have been obvious more than a year earlier, in 2013, when Wolfram|Alpha did its Facebook social graph analysis, but I didn’t draw the connection then.1I’ve been unable to determine if there is a link between Five Labs and Cambridge Analytica. Both Five Labs and Cambridge Analytica performed personality analysis using the Big 5 (OCEAN) personality traits. To my understanding, Five Labs did it first.
  • A couple of years before that, in 2011, one of my friends posited that the 2012 election would be about “winning the Facebook news feed,” though I resisted the thought.2Actually, I still resist. That’s why I did my Facebook Experiment.
  • And in 2009, I predicted Facebook selling targeted ads. How could it not?3This was tongue in cheek when I wrote it. Haha! I still think Facebook has a way to go before it implements all of my “plans.” But the point remains—does anyone think that Facebook doesn’t survive and thrive by selling ads into target demographics?
  • We know Facebook experimented with our moods.
  • We also know that Facebook studies our political views and manipulated our news feed so we saw news we agree with, with the goal of keeping us happy and on Facebook.4This doesn’t bother me. When I go to Starbucks, or the mall (yeah, right?), or the airport, I don’t mind that they try to provide a comfortable place that makes me happy. If they have reading material around, I don’t assume that I’m getting a comprehensive view of everything I should know. I wouldn’t expect it from Facebook either.

So tell me again what’s so shocking about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica? What new thing did we learn?

Btw, if you want to keep your data on Facebook more private,5If it’s on the internet, it’s not private. Regardless what settings you have, your information is no more secure than your least responsible Facebook friend on a bender early, early on a Sunday morning. there are steps you can take. Techlicious has a great walkthrough on Facebook’s privacy settings.

By Brent Logan

Engineer. Lawyer. WordPress geek. Longboarder. Blood donor. Photographer. More about Brent.


  1. great links, and of course great thinking. are you still on FB? and if you are, does the “hiding” mechanism (from note #2, your Facebook experiment) still work for you?

  2. Yes, I’m still on Facebook, though spending less time there, largely because of a Hidden Brain podcast I heard about time on Facebook resulting in lower happiness.

    My Facebook experiment has become largely irrelevant to changes Facebook made to the newsfeed that prioritizes posts by people over shared posts. When people share a news story, it’s seen much less often. I suspect those that thought they didn’t need to subscribe to my blog because they would just see when I shared on Facebook are no longer seeing my shares. Oh well…

    I do think Mark Zuckerberg wants us to like Facebook and has matured significantly from his outrageous comments he made in college. I also think they’re caught somewhat flat-footed (as am I) over the public outrage for having Facebook provide personally identifiable information in exactly the way it’s been advertised to do and has done for quite a while.

  3. You can’t go wrong by reading Dave Pell’s analysis. Here’s a sample:

    “Facebook is constantly urging you to share your immediate thoughts and reactions to every life event. We were a couple days into the company’s biggest challenge before Facebook’s creator shared any of his thoughts on the matter. There’s probably a lesson in that.”

  4. pell is a great read, thx!

    “7. The lesson of 2018 is that if Zuckerberg wants to survive this scandal, he needs like 300 other scandals too.”

    wasn’t that the lesson of 2017? ha..

  5. Public outrage is inversely proportional to the level of public understanding of the business model of Facebook, wouldn’t you say?

    Or maybe: public outrage is inversely proportional to the clarity of individual facebook users’ personal privacy policy (pell #19!) in aggregate.

    I don’t think people think about this stuff very much, I guess. You are very much — as is usually the case! — somewhat of an outlier here.

    IMO Twitter is figuring out what it is, and will settle down into a flaccid middle age as broadcast social news function, much like an early cable news channel — think CNN in the early 80’s. On the other hand, I think FB is going to track more like identity creator MTV, boom then whimper, esp. as identity social hubs with sexier brands and non-sucky business models get traction in the next decade.

    The counter argument is that Facebook is too big to fail, but I don’t buy it. Maybe. But I wouldn’t be shocked if Facebook pulled a much hoped-for MySpace dive, with FB stock trading well under $40 by this time next year..

  6. Yeah, Dave Pell is a good, pun-filled recap of the day’s events. It’s a don’t miss for me.

    Maybe it’s time for me to post the newsletters I subscribe to. I think I can thank you for recommending Scott Galloway, founder of L2.

  7. Hmm… Public outrage inversely proportional to understanding / thought? Say it isn’t so! ;-)

    Twitter doesn’t know what it wants to be when it grows up and I think it’s too late. Twitter kept its 140-character limit long after it made sense, crippling easy, fun interaction. Now it’s filled with the sort of communication that thrives on short, nonresponsive messages: announcements, tweetstorms, and drive-by attacks. It’s not fun like it used to be.

    FB has already lost the younger generations (long time ago…) so it’s doomed to fail. It’s just a matter of time. Maybe alleged misuse of private information and manipulative advertising will take a some of the shine off Facebook for the older generations.

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