You’re about to help Facebook understand how your private messages make you feel

😍 or 😠?
😍 or 😠?
Image: Facebook
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Facebook is arguably the best data collection tool in the world. Its users post details about their interests, joys, and despairs that can’t be found anywhere else, and what’s not explicitly said can easily be inferred by what a person Likes and shares. It’s no wonder why marketers love the site—Facebook has refined their ad targeting to an exact data science.

The social-media company is now poised to add a new level of precision to their data-collecting engine: Reactions in Messenger. Facebook users will soon be able to give thumbs up, thumbs down, and a variety of other smiley-face-based reactions to individual messages, much like the reactions on public Facebook posts. This feature—along with Mentions, a way of letting someone know they’ve been mentioned in a group conversation—will be available in Facebook Workplace, making the Facebook option much more similar to its main competitor, Slack.

Facebook makes no equivocation that it can read your messages: Its privacy policy clearly states that anything you do on its service is fair game.

“We collect the content and other information you provide when you use our Services, including when you sign up for an account, create or share, and message or communicate with others,” the policy reads.

That content is tough for machines to understand. Our smartest artificial intelligence is only starting to understand human language, so, much like Facebook Reactions and Likes, these Messenger Reactions give the Facebook algorithm something other than text to analyze. Smiley or frowny faces are much easier to understand than an entire language.

All this just means that Facebook will see what kinds of messages people like and don’t like without having to actually understand what those messages are saying. This brings us back to the targeted advertising.

At the time Reactions was launched on Facebook, product manager Sammi Krug wrote: “Over time we hope to learn how the different Reactions should be weighted differently by News Feed to do a better job of showing everyone the stories they most want to see.”

If the same theory is applied, this means the way you react to messages could influence what you see on Facebook.

A Facebook spokesperson told Quartz that the data collected is not currently used for advertising purposes, and the reactions within private messages are not shared with brands.

In the end, this data is what you pay for an otherwise free service. You get connected with friends and family, and Facebook gets to sell access to your attention.