Technologist accuses Facebook of psychologically abusing its users

November 22, 2011

Psychological abuse from Facebook?

Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where one person tricks another into thinking their memory is flawed or they are crazy. The abuser may deny previous abuse incidents or disorient his/her victim by staging bizarre events. The term comes from the 1930s film “Gas Light” wherein among other tricks, the lead character convinces his spouse that she is crazy as he turns the gas lamps lower than usual and claims they are normal and she alone cannot see them properly.

Well regarded technologist Anil Dash says Facebook is gaslighting its users. “Facebook has moved from merely being a walled garden into openly attacking its users’ ability and willingness to navigate the rest of the web. The evidence that this is true even for sites which embrace Facebook technologies is overwhelming, and the net result is that Facebook is gaslighting users into believing that visiting the web is dangerous or threatening.”

How exactly is this happening?

In depth, he outlines the process of how he believes this phenomena is occurring. First, Facebook notifies users that they are shutting down RSS-to-notes and encourages users to manually enter notes or share a link to content on their wall but when content providers aren’t huge like CNN or Yahoo, they are pushed to the bottom of a user’s feed, losing control of their content (not exactly “frictionless” as pitched). Dash notes that sites using Facebook as their commenting systems and are indexed and deemed acceptable to Facebook’s Open Graph, Facebook instructs users to fear the site.

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In other words, use our tool as your commenting system, and share your links manually on our site, but we’re going to tell people your site is questionable and could be dangerous. One commenter to Dash’s opinion summarized it humorously, “Dear Facebook, Be careful using Facebook! Sincerely, Facebook.

Dash says, “What’s remarkable about this warning message is not merely that an ordinary, simple web content page is being presented as a danger to a user. No, it’s far worse: (1) Facebook is warning its users about the safety of a page which incorporates Facebook’s own commenting features, meaning even web sites that embrace Facebook’s technologies can be marginalized. (2) Facebook is displaying this warning despite the fact that Facebook’s own systems have indexed the page and found that it incorporates their own Open Graph information.”

The flip side

One Facebook coder opined, “I work on the team that generated the warning that seems to be the crux of this post. I am pretty convinced that it is a bug.”

A comment Dash received on his blog criticized his stance. “Not another “oh no! Facebook is scary!” post. If you went back to 1950 and explained the internet to someone, I imagine their reaction would be much like yours is to these changes., but don’t fear the future. The idea of sharing as you go rather than clicking to share is the next step in social media. Embrace it.”

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Marti Trewe reports on business and technology news, chasing his passion for helping entrepreneurs and small businesses to stay well informed in the fast paced 140-character world. Marti rarely sleeps and thrives on reader news tips, especially about startups and big moves in leadership.

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