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Facebook tinkered with users’ feeds for a massive psychology experiment

Posted on June 28th, 2014 at 23:07 by John Sinteur in category: News -- Write a comment


Scientists at Facebook have published a paper showing that they manipulated the content seen by more than 600,000 users in an attempt to determine whether this would affect their emotional state. The paper, “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks,” was published in The Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences. It shows how Facebook data scientists tweaked the algorithm that determines which posts appear on users’ news feeds—specifically, researchers skewed the number of positive or negative terms seen by randomly selected users. Facebook then analyzed the future postings of those users over the course of a week to see if people responded with increased positivity or negativity of their own, thus answering the question of whether emotional states can be transmitted across a social network. Result: They can! Which is great news for Facebook data scientists hoping to prove a point about modern psychology. It’s less great for the people having their emotions secretly manipulated.

In order to sign up for Facebook, users must click a box saying they agree to the Facebook Data Use Policy, giving the company the right to access and use the information posted on the site. The policy lists a variety of potential uses for your data, most of them related to advertising, but there’s also a bit about “internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement.”

So by not reading 100 pages of legal crap about terms and conditions you become a valid research subject?

And this is considered ethical?

Did I somehow miss the part where Freud took money and power for offering his services to the purveyors of war and cigarettes?

If only the people working on the Stanford prison experiment had known…

  1. Facebook’s sheep..eeerh users, would be perfect for a modern day version of War of the Worlds (..hat tipped to Orson Welles 1938)

  2. I’m sure Facebook will offer a full refund of all service fees which those people paid during that time.

  3. It was free so it was OK? I am sure Joseph Mengele had great things to say about the free board and lodging his subjects enjoyed.

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