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Facebook tracks aborted status updates, self-censorship study reveals

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 Study reveals 71 per cent of Facebook users censor their own status updates. Do you? (iStock) If you've ever typed out an angry, sad, or otherwise revealing Facebook status update only to delete it before pushing "enter," you may be interested in one of the social network's latest research studies.

A recently-published paper entitled Self-Censorship on Facebook reveals that Facebook has the ability to track what you're typing, as you type it, regardless of whether or not you publish it.

It may sound like a digital privacy advocate's worst nightmare, but Facebook assures it's not interested in collecting the content of your deleted text - only in analyzing whether or not you've actually deleted any.

Facebook data scientist Adam Kramer worked with Sauvik Das, a summer software engineer intern at Facebook and Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon University, to study the data of 3.9 million English-speaking Facebook users over the course of 17 days.

Their results indicate that 71 per cent of all Facebook users exhibit some level of what they call "last-minute self-censorship" behavior.

This includes abandoning status updates, comments, and posts made to other timelines.

"Social media affords users the ability to type out and review their thoughts prior to sharing them," reads the paper's introduction. "This feature adds an additional phase of filtering that is not available in face-to-face communication: filtering after a thought has been formed and expressed, but before it has been shared."

The authors go on to say that by better understanding the conditions under which people self-censor, networks can gain more insight into how social media is being used, and how social networks can be improved.

A Facebook representative told Slate's Jennifer Golbeck that the collection of user data in this way is not a violation of the company's Data Use Policy.

To collect the text, Facebook simply sends a code the user's web browser which automatically analyzes the text and reports the metadata back to Facebook.

As Golbeck points out, this is not uncommon for websites.

"If you use Gmail, your draft messages are automatically saved as you type them. Even if you close the browser without saving, you can usually find a (nearly) complete copy of the email you were typing in your Drafts folder," she writes. "Facebook is using essentially the same technology here."

Do you regularly, or have you ever censored yourself before posting something online?


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