Self Censorship On Facebook: Facebook Can Read Your Un-Posted Posts
Turns out that when your Facebook status box asks you, "What's on your mind?", it isn't just a prompt: Facebook genuinely wants to know, even when you never finish your thought. According to a research paper, "Self Censorship On Facebook," published by a former Facebook engineering intern Sauvik Das and a current data scientist at the company, Adam Kramer, Facebook gets to listen in to our unfinished thoughts by monitoring when we self-censor — i.e. when we type, but don't wind up hitting "Post."
Before everyone gets all "NSA! NSA!" about this, it's not quite like that exhaustive trawling of data by the federal government. As Slate wrote, it's actually weirder: Facebook not only collects the data, they want to understand why we self-censor.
Slate explained the process of how Facebook collects the data of the 71 percent of users that the authors caught self-censoring. As they point out, it's sort of like how Gmail saves your drafts by catching what you type in the text box:
As far as privacy goes, this is a mega-gray area: A Facebook spokesperson said it fell under their policy's domain of the company collecting information when you "interact with things." And as Dak and Kramer point out, Facebook isn't collecting what we write — but that we never posted it.
Major ethical questions aside, we all know that Facebook can collect are things you've decided to share online. But Facebook collecting and analyzing what you deliberately chose not to share is another thing entirely. It's almost violating. And they're definitely interested in your self-censorship:
So: why? The paper's authors say it has to do with "content generation," meaning that knowing your unfinished thoughts could help advertisers help target ads better. Basically, typing, "God, I f*cking hate this f*cking paper. Writing is the WOR-" could theoretically trigger a sketchy "Need essay-writing help?" ad.
And then, say the authors, Facebook is just looking out for you: "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."
Okay, whatever. So two people don't show up to a party for Otter Awareness Week. Big deal.