Facebook’s Emotion Manipulation Study Angers Users

study was published recently showing that in January 2012, Facebook manipulated 689,003 members feeds to display a larger amount of positive or negative status updates. Running over a one week duration, this information was used to show that the moods of your friends on social media can affect your own mood positively or negatively on a day to day basis.

This manipulation has sparked outrage by some, claiming a lack of ethical practice – especially seeing as the ‘subjects’ were not notified of this study.

As far as legality is concerned, Facebook is in the clear as users agree to give up their data for analysis, testing and research upon sign up. However, the angered users aren’t claiming issues with the data collected, they’re upset that their feeds were manipulated without consultation.

Addressing the issue, a Facebook spokesman stated:

“This research was conducted for a single week in 2012 and none of the data used was associated with a specific person’s Facebook account. We do research to improve our services and to make the content people see on Facebook as relevant and engaging as possible. A big part of this is understanding how people respond to different types of content, whether it’s positive or negative in tone, news from friends, or information from pages they follow. We carefully consider what research we do and have a strong internal review process. There is no unnecessary collection of people’s data in connection with these research initiatives and all data is stored securely.” The Atlantic

Adam D.I Kramer (being one of the studies authors and a Facebook employee) gave his thoughts through a comment on a public Facebook status:

“And at the end of the day, the actual impact on people in the experiment was the minimal amount to statistically detect it,” he writes. “Having written and designed this experiment myself, I can tell you that our goal was never to upset anyone. […] In hindsight, the research benefits of the paper may not have justified all of this anxiety.” The Atlantic

So although Facebook users do agree to share their information, technically they aren’t in agreeance with the alteration of their data (in this case, news feeds).

Susan Fiske, a Princeton University psychology professor helped edit this study also shared some thoughts on the issue:

“It’s ethically okay from the regulations perspective, but ethics are kind of social decisions. There’s not an absolute answer. And so the level of outrage that appears to be happening suggests that maybe it shouldn’t have been done…I’m still thinking about it and I’m a little creeped out, too.” The Atlantic

Facebook has been rumored to partake in data manipulation studies like this more often than you may think. Should this access of data make you worried? Honestly the general population aren’t going to batt an eyelid, as long as they can access their fair share of recycled memes and baby photos.

Image courtesy of Post Grad Problems

Facebook Policy Agreement Allowed Emotional State Study on 600,000 Users

When signing up for a Facebook account, the majority of users do not read the Facebook Data Use Policy and consider that their private user data is secure. While this is true, this does not mean that Facebook itself can’t use the data you post. This is where Facebook has gathered some data from random account feeds in order to use it in a little social experiment.

Facebook apparently has tweaked the content seen by more than 600,000 users in order to determine whether or not it would affect their emotional state. The study paper has been published under the name of “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks,” at The Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences. Users who like to view it would find how Facebook data scientists tampered the algorithm managing which posts appear on users’ news feeds, having it manage the number of negative and positive posts appearing on users’ news feed. Future posts from users ‘participating’ in the experiment were then analysed over the course of one week in order to determine if they would respond with increased positivity or negativity of their own and thus determining whether emotional states could be transmitted over a social network.

The result turned out to be positive, having users respond to the negativity or positivity of the content manipulated. The scientists have proved that the ‘mood’ can be changed over a social network and the overall point about modern psychology. Also, for concerned Facebook users, the paper states that the data gathered has been within the “internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement.” agreement which everyone had to agreed with before signing up for a Facebook account. In addition to the latter, all personal and private data gathered has been done using the policy’s liberal constraints, having a machine analyse and pick out positive and negative posts.

Adam Kramer is listed as being the lead author for the paper, having him state in an interview that the reason he had joined the social network is that “Facebook data constitutes the largest field study in the history of the world.”. The latter statement proves the sad truth that while users view Facebook as a fun and loving place to post pictures, quotes, places you have been to and personal experience, it is without question a huge ‘research lab’ for some higher-ups as well.

Thank you A.V. Club for providing us with this information
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