Facebook bars Israeli firm that claims to ‘subconsciously influence’ people

Social media giant accuses The Spinner of using fake accounts on its platforms; company says it can affect behavior by exposing people to articles ‘disguised as editorial content’

Screenshot of a video from The Spinner. (Screen capture: YouTube)
Screenshot of a video from The Spinner. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Facebook has barred an Israeli firm that claims it can “subconsciously influence” people, because it is allegedly using fake accounts on social media platforms.

The social media giant issued a cease and desist letter to The Spinner banning it from Facebook and Instagram, the BBC reported Friday.

According to its website, The Spinner provides “a service that enables you to subconsciously influence a specific person, by controlling the content on the websites he or she usually visits.”

“The targeted person gets repetitively exposed to hundreds of items which are placed and disguised as editorial content,” a statement on its homepage says.

Among the influence campaigns the company offers are to initiate sex, propose marriage or get back with an ex.

This photo from July 16, 2013, shows a sign at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Elliot Shefler, cofounder and chief operating officer of The Spinner, told the BBC that the company would continue to offer the service and would not rule out again using Facebook.

In a letter to Shefler from law firm Perkins Coie, Facebook said The Spinner was violating its terms and advertising policies by appearing to use “fake accounts and fake Facebook Pages” to target users with advertisements. It said The Spinner’s accounts had been removed.

“Facebook demands that you stop this activity immediately,” the letter reportedly says.

In an interview with Forbes last year, Shefler said the algorithms he used were developed by an agency that has ties to the Israel Defense Forces, without elaborating.

The Spinner sends “an innocent looking link” to a person by text message and when the link is clicked on, a cookie is installed on the phone.

“From that point on, the target will be strategically bombarded with articles and media tailored to him or her,” according its website.

The company says its services are legal and that it uses native advertising to target people.

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