Facebook Is Tracking When You Write Something… And Then Decide To Delete It Rather Than Post It

from the your-thoughts-belong-to-facebook dept

We’ve all done it. You type something into Facebook and are all set to post it as a status update or a comment to someone else… and then your common sense takes over, and you realize that posting it would probably be a mistake. You were either about to post something fairly stupid, controversial or just ranty… and realized that, after taking a few breaths, life would probably be better for everyone if no one ever saw your words. Personally, when this has happened to me, it feels a bit cathartic. You were still able to type out what was in your brain… but no one ever had to see it. Or did they? According to a new report, Facebook is closely tracking and analyzing such “self-censorship” in order to figure out ways to encourage you to post anyway. While the company claims it’s not actually looking at the actual text, it could do so, and is certainly looking at the situations in which you self-censor, trying to help you speed right by that little hesitation known as “thinking better of it”:

Why does Facebook care anyway? Das and Kramer argue that self-censorship can be bad because it withholds valuable information. If someone chooses not to post, they claim, “[Facebook] loses value from the lack of content generation.” After all, Facebook shows you ads based on what you post. Furthermore, they argue that it’s not fair if someone decides not to post because he doesn’t want to spam his hundreds of friends—a few people could be interested in the message. “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,” they write.

Right. But what about the other situation where someone is about to post something that is going to make a lot of people miserable. Aren’t we all better off in those cases when the “self-censorship” brain cells kick in? Facebook might not think so, but I imagine that an awful lot of people would disagree.

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Comments on “Facebook Is Tracking When You Write Something… And Then Decide To Delete It Rather Than Post It”

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Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Why?

Simple…it’s huge install user base. I hate Facebook with a passion, but everyone I know is on it and if I have to contact someone and I don’t have their phone number (since I don’t have a mobile phone and the only reason I have a landline is because it was bundled with internet), then Facebook is the quickest and easiest way to communicate with them.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Why?

If I have to contact someone and don’t know their phone number, I just ask a mutual friend for it.

To me, it matters not how many of my friends use Facebook. I used to use Facebook, but stopped because the cost of it in terms of time, effort, and privacy loss far exceeds any benefit I ever got from it. I don’t use it now, and everyone knows I don’t, so they just contact me directly (phone or email) with stuff that they think I want to know about (and vice versa).

This is actually far superior to Facebook — I only hear about the stuff my friends actually think that I, personally, want to hear about and get to skip all the spam (spam being stuff I don’t care about but that others might).

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Why?

That’s you. I find Facebook very valuable and it does not take more time than I’m willing to invest on it reading random garbage. The rest is spent interacting with people. The magic kicks in when people from different circles interact in some discussion in my opinion (yeah I know circles is a G+ concept and I actually prefer G+ over Facebook but nobody uses G+). Sometimes I spend weeks without logging into facebook or checking anything via the app (I still use the messenger regularly though).

There is value in social networking. Whether people want to make use of it or use it in a reasonable way is up for debate.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Why?

No. I just don’t have a use for one. If there’s anything I have to say to someone, I’ll say it to their face, or barring that, via landline phone or through Facebook/Skype. While I do have a Galaxy S2, I bought it merely so I could have a look at what Android is like: hell, it doesn’t even have a SIM card.
Only once in the past three or four years has a situation ever come up where I needed to talk to someone while on the go, and that was to tell a friend I’d be late for a movie at the cinema. Other than that…I simply don’t have a need for a portable telephony communications device.

Internet Zen Master (profile) says:

Re: Re: Why?

How about… hell no.

While Facebook may be a giant, invasive, corporate pain in the ass, it’s not trying to force me to merge my Youtube account with google+ just because google+ has a tiny userbase, and give up my anonymity in the process by trying get me to choose between my real name or my Youtube username(with a forced google+ channel) every time I go on the site.

I like having the ability to remain (relatively) anonymous on the web. I do not like the idea of having to self-censor myself because someone might be offended and come after me outside the web, just because Google’s trying to save its stagnant social network & force trolls to try and behave.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Why?

lots of people use it. Back 10 years ago I screamed about “why?! why would you use AOL instant messenger?!”

instant messengers, social media, etc are only as useful as to how many people can access it.

The way facebook is going it’s eventually going to bloat out of control and some other social media site will come by and kill it and you’ll look back 10 years from now and go “Oh yea, remember facebook! hahahaha”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Why?

Indeed, I’m getting ready to delete my facebook account if they keep spamming me for much longer.

A few years ago I had to register a facebook account to use another website to post comments. But now that site uses Discus, and I never used my facebook for anything else. Yet every few days I keep on getting annoying “you have 1 new friend request” emails. And then there’s emails listing people I might know, some of which freak me out that facebook can even know I knew, like a guy I used to talk to pretty frequently at a hobby website that no longer exists.

Anonymous Coward says:

Facebook is being led by immature people

Facebook needs to have their own ‘self-censorship brain cells kick in’.

Facebook is about relationships.
Those of us who have been around a long time know that controlling what comes out of one’s mouth (or typing fingers) is the key to successful relationships. What is Facebook thinking… that weaker, less trusting relationships are good?

Does Facebook realize how this makes them look?

out_of_the_blue says:


Fraudbook doesn’t give 2 shits how it looks

they know that the unwashed masses will still continue to post their stupid cat pictures and ‘I made a turd today!’ status updates that nobody reads cause everyone is too busy putting everyone else on mute/ignore so they can clear their wall of ‘spam’ so they can post their own useless spam nobody looks at

they could make it where the site injects trojans and rootkits into every user’s PC and idiots will still use it, sometimes i wonder if people are exhibitionist because they sure don’t care about being spied on

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

they know that the unwashed masses will still continue to post their stupid cat pictures and ‘I made a turd today!’ status updates that nobody reads cause everyone is too busy putting everyone else on mute/ignore so they can clear their wall of ‘spam’ so they can post their own useless spam nobody looks at

I don’t usually agree with much of what you say but this right here is absolutely true.

Anonymous Coward says:

Hm, might be a good way to converse...

….on FB with the NSA/FBI/DHS/CIA or your secret military lover.

Imagine the logarithm bot can recognize a signal code, turns on your status update/comment box to a screen a real human is watching, send message to that human without ever hitting send – private discourse no public app – no public (or public acknowledged) record.

If only Petraeus and his lover had this option.

Trevor (profile) says:

Well Duh

Seeing how the users are the PRODUCT and the consumers are the Advertisers, this is another example of Facebook trying to increase volume to its consumers. In Facebook’s business, it’s quantity over quality.

*P.S. I was about to write something else, but thought better of it and decided to erase what I wrote. It gave me an idea: if everyone types obscene messages to Facebook and then erases them, will they get the message?

gorehound (profile) says:

I will just keep posting the Anti-government and Anti-MAFIAA Stuff I post.Like I care what FB looks at cause I will love the Day when they finally fall.
I personally really hate FB and do what I can to push that.I will post that I think they should fucking die, etc.Always saying stuff to put them down.
Banning me from FB would be a huge favor to me ! I wish they would ban me !
Doubt they see this but anyways
Fuck Off Facebook !

Anonymous Coward says:

I think it's obvious

I just finished reading the study. I think it’s pretty obvious why Facebook cares about self-censorship. It’s because:

A) The value they provide to users is directly linked to how many people are using Facebook and posting content.
B) The value of Facebook as a company is almost entirely based on A.
C) They’re trying to compete with Twitter.

A is pretty obvious; it’s a classic example of a network externality. If nobody I know or care to talk to is using Facebook, then I don’t get any value from using Facebook. If I know a bunch of people on Facebook, but nobody posts, then I also don’t get any value from Facebook. If everybody I know is on Facebook and posting content that I want/need to read, then having a Facebook account is almost mandatory.

B is just the logical extension of A. Facebook makes their profits from advertising, and more generally from leveraging their large number of users. As users drop off, or people use Facebook less, Facebook the company loses value.

C is probably where the motivation for the study comes from. Facebook’s market share leveled off around mid-2010, and they haven’t managed to increase it since. Twitter took off around mid-2009, and they’ve been slowly and intermittently increasing their user base. I’d be willing to bet that if Twitter tracked self-censorship, they’d find that the patterns of self-censorship were significantly different from those on Facebook.

There’s a lot of different reasons for people to self-censor. One of these reasons, obviously, is deciding that your post makes you look stupid — but Twitter users don’t seem to have as much of an issue with that, and the users in the second-largest player in the social networking space (YouTube) certainly don’t have an issue with that. Another reason for self-censorship is that you have something to say, but (for whatever reason) decide not to say it on Facebook. Facebook would obviously like to know about those cases, and what your reasons are.

It’s an interesting study, but there’s no real WTF here. There’s no conspiracy, there’s no weird manipulation, there’s nothing even really to see. Facebook is trying to make their service more valuable to their users, and they’re quite aware that most of the self-censored content is crap content. The authors of the study make it extremely clear:

It would be inappropriate to optimize against the metric we present in this paper because it is too general. Rather, it would be pertinent to optimize against undesirable instances of self-censorship, as in the case of the college student who avoids posting a status update directed at a special interest group because she is afraid of spamming friends outside that group.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I think it's obvious

A) The value they provide to users is directly linked to how many people are using Facebook and posting content.
B) The value of Facebook as a company is almost entirely based on A.

Wrong. The value they provide to advertisers is directly linked to people simply posting. The value provided to users is based not only to those posts, but also to the quality of those posts. If Facebook encourages posting for the sake of posting, without regard to the quality of what is posted, the value of Facebook to its users will go down.

anonymouse says:


Seriously this is beyond crazy and intrusive. I have used Facebook sparingly, even creating a false Facebook persona so that i can easily register and post to sites that look for Facebook accounts as proof of identity.

Now i think it is time i just ignore all of these social apps and just post messages directly to people. For one it will enable me to know exactly who is going to see any message i post to anyone and know beyond any doubt that only the person i am messaging will receive the message, well other than the NSA that is.

And if there is something important that someone has posted i am sure one of the people i know will msg me privately about it.can still read their posts on facebook under my real facebook name.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Facebook

even creating a false Facebook persona so that i can easily register and post to sites that look for Facebook accounts as proof of identity.

People really need to stop doing this. If a site requires you to provide a Facebook (or G+, etc.) login, then don’t use that site. Otherwise, we’ll never be rid of all that nonsense.

Gracey says:

Something that has no value in the first place, can’t lose any value.

I assume they don’t actually mean “value”, but “money”.

Personally, the only “value” facebook has for me is that I can reach all of my family with one post, and each family member can see the response of the others.

As for the ads … what ads? They’re a thing of the past with multiple adblockers and greasemonkey scripts. Haven’t seen any ads on facebook myself in a long time. Suits me just fine.

oxguy3 says:

Not really that big of a problem

To be honest, I really don’t have that much of a problem with this. The researchers are only using the whether-or-not-we-self-censored rather than the actual content of the censored message, and I don’t really see what use they would have for that data that would motivate them to lie about it.

If you really don’t like this, I’m sure someone could write a browser extension that blocks all Ajax HTTP requests except the ones necessary for the site’s functionality. But for me, I just avoid putting anything private anywhere near Facebook anyway, so I don’t really mind this.

Techbert says:


…as I call it; a branch of Mossad, the Babylonian banker’s espionage and assassination service, poisoning human society since 2000BC.

The Nature of Money
A Dialogue between Socrates and his student Amphytrion

Amphytrion: Master, yesterday I heard Kallikles give a speech. He proclaimed that the savings of the city of Athens lent by the bankers were being wasted.
Crokus the banker supported Kallikles and said that the savings of the citizens of Athens would be jeopardised if its rulers did not show restraint in their spending. Bankers are asking for a return to the blessed old days of Draco.

Socrates (laughing): I suppose that Kallikles did not remind the assembly who Draco was?

Amphytrion: No, but why?

Socrates: My dear Amphytrion, Draco is remembered as a King who ordered the sale of half the citizens of Athens as slaves because they couldn’t pay the outrageous tax he had decreed to pay for his wars. His laws were so abject and insulting that Athena herself appeared and revealed to the citizens of Athens that the Draconian laws will be forever reviled as a symbol of evil.

Amphytrion: I am stunned by your knowledge, Master. Could you explain why Draco did not simply borrow money from the bankers in Babylon?

Socrates: You raise a good question. Let us remember that King Draco and his advisers were obsessed by what they called the sacred laws of sound finance. They refused to get money from Babylonian Bankers because they regarded Babylon as the essence of evil.

Amphytrion: But Socrates, how could they ignore the reality of credit? Did they fear the high interest rates charged by the bankers of Babylon?

Socrates (laughing): How true it is – History is no longer taught in the City of Athens. King Draco and his advisers were the most powerful land and slave owners of their times. They were defending their own interests against change. They willingly ignored the real role of banks because taxes were the best way to enslave Athenians and to ensure their absolute power.

Amphytrion: But Master, let’s assume that King Draco and his advisers had been more educated and less blinded by their self- interest and had borrowed the money from the Babylonian Bankers. The debt would still have had to be paid back by the City. This, in turn, would have meant higher taxes. This is common sense.

Socrates: You are influenced by Kallikles. Kallikles himself is heavily indebted to Babylonian bankers to finance his investments in Asia Minor and Sicily.
The flaw in Draco’s policy was that his spending would never have increased the wealth of Athens. He was a mad man obsessed by war.
According to the scriptures of the blessed Solon, Draco and his supporters from the old oligarchy were incessantly destroying public wealth. Any banker would have either refused to grant credit, or would have charged very high interest rates. Naturally the army of the Emperor of Persia would have guaranteed repayment.

Amphytrion: I understand, Master. But this does not answer my question. The only way to pay back the bankers would have been to raise taxes.

Socrates: My point, Amphytrion, is simple. Kallikles talks about the threat of returning to the times of high taxation to pay the bankers. What he says is irrelevant to the current situation.
Kallikles should know that the Great Xerces, the King of Persia himself, built Persepolis exclusively by borrowing from the bankers of Babylon. The bankers had no problem in lending Xerces all the money he needed because they knew that these loans would ultimately increase the wealth of Babylon and ensure the long-term support of the King of Kings.

Amphytrion: But Master, Xerces would still have had to raise taxes to pay back the bankers.

Socrates: But that is precisely the point. He could not have raised taxes because his empire was too weak. He especially feared that the riots in Egypt and Asia Minor would spread to Babylon. This would likely have caused the ruin of the Babylonian bankers.
That is precisely why the bankers moderated their appetite. They relied on the king’s armies to support and protect their trade. Their interest rates were reasonable and, as a bonus, they did not expect full repayment of the loans. The ensuing economic boom in Babylon brought so much private business to the city that, overall, they never suffered losses.
The Chronicles of what is now the largest bank in Babylon, Egidu Brothers Inc., stated “everybody will seek our business, when all the civilised world gazes at what has been achieved by our Bank for the greatest city in the world”. And they were right, my dear Amphytrion.
It is ironic that Kallikles argues against our dear friend General Pericles who wishes to undertake productive expenditures and expand the wealth and the glory of Athens. It is an insult to history and to logic to compare Pericles to Dark Lord Draco. The latter lived in primitive times.

Amphytrion: Another thought occurred to me. How could our banks lend more money to the city since according to Kallikles and Crokus the source of these loans, our savings, has already been depleted by the folly of Pericles.

Socrates: My dear Amphytrion, banks do not initially need money to lend money. Xerces, borrowed from Babylon banks because he was short in gold coins. The money to build Persepolis was created through promissory notes. Everybody honoured these notes in the civilised world, from the Indian Kingdom of Magadha to the borders of Libya.

Amphytrion: Promissory notes. I am confused by this notion, Master

Socrates: It’s quite simple. When King Xerces needed sandalwood from India to build the sacred pillars of the audience courtyard he went to see his bankers in Babylon. They issued for him notes which guaranteed that any holder of the note could summon a payment of, say, one hundred talents from their vaults. Xerces’ special envoys sailed to India, where they bought the required quantity of sandalwood. Indian merchants accepted these notes in payment. In turn, they used these notes to pay the landlords who supplied the sandalwood. In turn, the landlords used these promissory notes to repay their debts to their own bankers in Magadha. Ultimately Indian bankers used the promissory notes in their dealings with the King of Magadha. The entire system rested on the credit worthiness of the bankers of Babylon.
And these notes circulated and travelled_
The Indian King spent those notes to acquire luxury items and equipment from Ionia, Phoenicia and Egypt. Like Ulysses, but much faster, these notes returned to the Persian Empire, where they were used to pay taxes to the King who in turn, paid back his debts to the bankers. This is the miracle of money, my dear Amphytrion. All these economic transactions took place with just clay tablets and Egyptian scrolls and the bankers never had to pay the holders of their notes with gold or silver.

Amphytrion: This is quite a revelation, Master. But the banks in Babylon could not have created these notes without at least a deposit of gold.

Socrates: Not quite so. Although an initial deposit and a capital would certainly help, what is crucial is the support of the King.
Why would bankers hoard too much gold if nobody asks them for gold in exchange of notes? No rational trader would hoard too much gold. We know very well what happened to the gold hoarded in Egypt, which was robbed even in the most sacred places by invaders, including King Kambyses when he plundered Egypt.

Amphytrion: But Master, do you mean to say that bankers are able to create money? How can this be?

Socrates: My dear Amphytrion, money is but the shadow of credit.
When the King decides to pay back his initial debt the credit notes are cancelled and money is destroyed. As soon as a new supply of sandalwood is needed, the banks issue new promissory notes at the request of the king, which guarantee that the holder of these notes could ask the banks for a payment in gold. I must stress that these notes are created as a result of a credit granted to the King.

Amphytrion: But Master, what is ultimately needed is gold.

Socrates: Ultimately perhaps, but it is not a requirement in the meantime. It is more difficult to get credit than to get gold when you are a commoner. It is important to understand that the creation of money through credit can only be initiated by those who are the most creditworthy, such as The King and his court, the priests and the wealthiest merchants in Phoenicia and Ionia.

Amphytrion: I understand how this might work in Persia, but what is true in despotic Asia cannot be true in our democracy. Clearly, in Athens there is no despot to sustain the artificial value of a banker’s promissory note. Is it not our savings that allow our banks to lend coins and notes to the people?

Socrates: My dear Amphytrion I commend you for being such a good and inquisitive disciple. Let us say that our banks do not create money. Then, tell me where do the savings they are lending come from?

Amphytrion: The savings come from the unspent revenues of families, which are deposited with the bankers.

Socrates: Let’s say you are right. But these family revenues, how are they earned?

Amphytrion: Through trade, the sale of farm products and business in general.

Socrates: Right, but where does the money come from?

Amphytrion: The silver mines of Laurion, controlled by the oligarchy. The city mints the coins and_uh_

Socrates: Precisely. The liabilities created as a result of trade attract the silver into the system. This brings us back to the stage of the promissory notes with one big difference. As you had indicated in Athens unlike in the Persian Empire and in the Indian Kingdoms where the subjects and small trader were left in the hands of the usurers, our banks do lend to every citizen.

Amphytrion: Yes, but through loans stemming from the savings!

Socrates: So you are saying, my dear Amphytrion, that savings are used to pay for the revenues which create them?

Amphytrion: Yes.

Socrates: So you are saying my dear Amphytrion that savings exist before they are created. Is this possible?

Amphytrion: Uh, of course not. But then, where do savings come from?

Socrates: From the lending of our banks. If our banks did not create credit, the production of silver from our Laurion mines would not suffice and the creation of silver would simply finance the luxury expenditures of the owners of the mine. We know that all that the owners care for are imports of silk, perfumes, ivory and gold from Asia. All the production of silver would be exhausted in a heartbeat. If savings truly created credit, then the amount of money would have remained constant, at best, since the Trojan War. That is clearly not the case.

Amphytrion: No, it certainly is not.

Socrates: You also said that the act of saving is a righteous act. It is a portion of revenues that we resist using.

Amphytrion: It surely is.

Socrates: Therefore, the revenues of Athens would be inferior to what they were during the blessed era of Solon. Since families have to spend, their savings can only be a small portion of their revenues. There are other leaks, on which I have no need to focus. You know of algebra through the teaching of your friend Democrites. We know the revenues of Athens are twice what they were under Solon.

Amphytrion: I admit that this is very troubling. But what should we think of what Kallikles and Anaxagoras said?

Socrates: My dear friend, our sophists seem to have only one purpose in life, to cleverly obfuscate the truth. For them, truth is a luxury that no one can afford. You also know who pays their salary.

Amphytrion: Master, by the Gods now I understand. The savings of Athens are created by prosperity and the prosperity of Athens is not the result of savings. Anyone who denies this truth is either blinded or an enemy of the citizens of Athens.

Gibbous (profile) says:


Funny, ‘closely tracking and analyzing’ already has its own word in certain circles: it’s called keylogging. And while antivirus companies are being paid to prevent software from installing itself, logging keystrokes and stealing personal information, they are collaborating with Facebook (see their Antivirus Marketplace) and allowing them to do the exact thing they are blocking other ‘vendors’ from doing.

But, unlike with cybercriminals, we can trust Facebook with information we type in and then delete, amIrite?

Anonymous Coward says:

Simple Solution

There’s an easy answer to this problem, you know. Don’t do the draft on the website you want to comment on. Instead, create a simple text document on your desktop or mobile device of your choice, edit the hell out of it, and, when you’re satisfied with it, cut and paste it into the comments. Or delete it and start over. Or just delete it. No one will know anything until that final paste operation. You can copy and paste other comments into your draft, also. Ain’t computers wonderful?

Mdl says:

Get rid of Facebook

Get rid of Facebook. Even though people enjoy communicating with both friends and strangers, it has also destroyed many young lives with bullying etc. when are people going to realise the whole world doesn’t give a shit what you are doing or eating or seeing. Everyone needs to get a life. Not a virtual one.

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