Facebook announced yesterday that “every post and comment — both public and private — by a U.S. user that mentions a presidential candidate’s name will be fed through a sentiment analysis tool that spits out anonymized measures of the general U.S. Facebook population.” This analysis, along with reader polls and other information, will in turn be shared with politico.com.
The brief announcement of this new feature raises serious questions and offers few answers. Most troubling is Facebook’s willingness to search and collect users’ private political preferences and thoughts, preferences they may have shared only with their closest friend in a private email.
This raises at least three concerns. The first is that many users may not want to be part of any “sentiment analysis” or poll. For example, they may be a firm supporter of Mitt Romney but find Ron Paul’s ideas interesting. Are they now going to feel hesitant to talk about Paul’s ideas out of awareness that it might be registered as support or boost a candidate they don’t like? Second, we don’t see any mention of user consent anywhere in Facebook’s announcement. How has Facebook decided that users agreed that their personal communications can and should be used in this way?