According to Slate's Future Tense section, when you write a status update on Facebook but then decide at the last minute not to make it public -- an action Facebook calls "self-censorship" -- while the post never appears on your timeline, it's not gone per se: it is actually kept by the social media giant and thoroughly studied and analyzed.
In their article, Das and Kramer claim to only send back information to Facebook that indicates whether you self-censored, not what you typed. The Facebook rep I spoke with agreed that the company isnt collecting the text of self-censored posts. But its certainly technologically possible, and its clear that Facebook is interested in the content of your self-censored posts. Das and Kramers article closes with the following: "we have arrived at a better understanding of how and where self-censorship manifests on social media; next, we will need to better understand what and why." This implies that Facebook wants to know what you are typing in order to understand it. The same code Facebook uses to check for self-censorship can tell the company what you typed, so the technology exists to collect that data it wants right now.
It is easy to connect this to all the recent news about NSA surveillance. On the surface, it's similar enough. An organization is collecting metadatathat is, everything but the content of a communicationand analyzing it to understand people's behavior. However, there are some important differences. While it may be uncomfortable that the NSA has access to our private communications, the agency is are monitoring things we have actually put online. Facebook, on the other hand, is analyzing thoughts that we have intentionally chosen not to share.
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