Facebook manipulated over 70,000 users in order to study “emotional contagion” in humans. This study received a great deal of criticism, but the results were interesting. It turns out that Facebook has the ability to manipulate your emotions based on what you see in your news feed. In order to do this, the site needs to understand a lot about human emotions and the users’ likes and dislikes. Keeping detailed data on each users’ history on the site provides intelligent programs the necessary capital to influence users.
As a result, Facebook’s algorithms probably know more about you than you do. Moreover, the site definitely knows who the most influential people are. If someone posts something and has a large impact on the network, then you know that headquarters studies the waves of influence. Assuming Facebook assigns a numeric value to each users’ level of influence, then there has to be a single person who qualifies as the most influential person on Facebook.
Here’s my bet: Mark Zuckerberg either studies this individual in a stalkerish, creepy sort of way, or has gone out of his way to meet this person. There are a litany of reasons why Zuckerberg would want to study Facebook’s super user. Being the most influential person on that site arguably makes you the most influential person on the Internet. One of the site’s selling points is that people spend more time on Facebook than any other site on the Internet. If the super user influences a large percentage of the users, then a significant portion of humans have just been influenced by one man. In other words, the Facebook super user is among the most powerful people on planet Earth.
Perhaps there is more than a single super user. It’s entirely possible that a small cadre of users influence 80% of the site. Again, you can bet that Zuckerberg either knows these users personally or studies them with intricate detail.
What are the implications of identifying super users?
1. You can easily influence the people’s thoughts. As demonstrated by the study linked above, human emotions are easily influenced. If you want the people to think a certain way on an issue, then manipulating news feeds is an easy way to do so. Tapping into the FB super users to spread a certain message or perspective on a topic provides an easy way to spread a meme, thought virus, or promote a personal agenda.
2. You are a kingmaker. It’s not hard to believe that an FB super user also has a disproportionately large influence in the real world as well. If you can identify super users who can swing the mind of the Internet and speak well, then you’ve identified a potentially popular international political super star.
3. You pave the way for control. Similar to point #1, the government has a vested interest in thought control. Assuming that the government exercises its power to regulate digital communications, it’s easy to envision a society where users see news feeds that give them positive images of the government and terrible ideas about the government’s entities. The study linked above demonstrates that this form of soft brain washing can occur without the populace realizing it. In other words, we’ll be brainwashed before we ever realize what happened. In that sense, most people won’t even accept that they are brainwashed.
There are as many uses for identifying super users as we have imagination. This small list only provides a few nefarious reasons why Facebook would want to gather as much data on its users as possible.