News & Analysis

I don’t care about the “experimenting” but deceptive conduct is a whole different ball game

- July 1, 2014 2 MIN READ

Every tech blog and their dog are banging on about the facebook “emotional experiment” scandal. From those that think it is morally and ethically wrong to others comparing it to A/B testing, all sides have good points and each side is enjoying the debate with the other. It is a grey area, no laws were broken and my opinion on the whole thing is a bit “meh” to be honest.

You would have to be pretty thick to think that social networks don’t study and manipulate your behaviour.

There is a more pressing issue involving facebook at hand though. What myself and a fellow journalist at Startup Daily, Mike Huynh have noticed over the few days is that facebook may be engaging in deceptive conduct with their sponsored posts.

It sparked our attention when Mike noticed (whilst checking through his newsfeed) that a friend of his had liked a sponsored post by VISA along with 5 other people within his network. His friend Michelle however had not only NOT liked the page or post, but is not now or ever has been a customer of VISA.

It was time for a bit of a facebook newsfeed trawl. About 30 minutes was spent going through newsfeed posts looking at which connections had “liked” (X) pages, taking particular note of the featured ‘liker’ in the information displayed on the advertisement.

Roughly I would say that 60% of people that newsfeed advertisements were stating had “liked” their page were genuine followers of those brands, people or products. That however leaves around a 40% gap. Which is a pretty big margin of error, especially when advertisers are paying for a particular type of advertising – that leverages off being able to target individuals and their close personal connections, in a way that is meant to be organic and aid them in using “trust” to acquire new potential customers.

One of the biggest surprises for me, was that it has been happening with our own ad campaign that is running. The campaign is to create awareness of our new STARTUP DAILY facebook page, and the team here (that are not administrators on our social) have noticed friends in their network showing as having “liked” our page when they in fact do not.

The difficulty with this whole situation is that it seems to be random and showing different data on the same advertisement when the newsfeed is refreshed.

Only that the page and person was relevant to a conversation happening with Mike when this was first bought to his attention, it would probably have gone completely un-noticed.

It brings up the question about who is responsible. In the Trade Practices Act this kind of deceptive behaviour is condemned, and it is facebooks responsibility as a platform to make sure everything is above board with their advertising approach. The advertiser has no control over this kind of thing at all.

I understand the need to get decent advertising results, it is the only way people continue to return and spend money with you.

But when people are paying you money, putting their brand in a situation where they can be seen as being deceptive is not cool at all facebook.