Facebook ran secret psychological experiments on users

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A report from a team at Facebook that was first published in a scientific journal earlier this month reveals that the social network ran secret psychological experiments on 600,000 users without their awareness.

The report, published in the Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences, stated that back in January 2012, Facebook changed those users' news feeds to highlight either positive or negative posts from their friends. The paper stated:

When positive expressions were reduced, people produced fewer positive posts and more negative posts; when negative expressions were reduced, the opposite pattern occurred. These results indicate that emotions expressed by others on Facebook influence our own emotions, constituting experimental evidence for massive-scale contagion via social networks.

Facebook's Data Use Policy does give the company broad access to conduct these kinds of experiments, stating that users agree to "data analysis, testing, research and service improvement" when they sign up to use the social network. The paper does state that a machine was used to handle this experiment and no personal data from those 600,000 users was accessed.

If you are a Facebook user, how do you feel about the fact that it's possible your news feed could be manipulated in this way by the company for research?

Source: The Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences via AV Club

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Reader comments

Facebook ran secret psychological experiments on users

22 Comments

Well personally if the positive feeds were reduced and it produced more negative feeds then friendships could've been in jeopardy and destroyed due to these experiments.

Sent from the iMore App

Hell, for the sake of research, why not. If it's going to improve service for online social and offline social I say continue on.

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It may violate human research guidelines. At a minimum I think it would violate informed consent ethical standards for behavioral research.

@As the article stated, when you join and give your consent, the TOS is very broad and states:

"Facebook's Data Use Policy does give the company broad access to conduct these kinds of experiments, stating that users agree to "data analysis, testing, research and service improvement" when they sign up to use the social network. The paper does state that a machine was used to handle this experiment and no personal data from those 600,000 users was accessed."

So I would say yes, it is legal.

Considering the fact that 9 out of 10 statuses are pure Drama, not much of a difference anyways! The newsfeed has been manipulated for a long time now. I don't understand why people love to demonize facebook for every little change, study or whatever they do. Closing the account is just one click away ;)

There's a reason why I always have my feed sorted by most recent. And why I fucking hate the FB mobile apps.

EXACTLY!!! I always set it to "Most Recent". If I use the FB app, it always bounces back to newsfeed and I always have to keep on switching it back to most recent. The picture quality and auto run of videos also stinks. I only use the app to upload videos, but I login using Safari for everything else. I despise the FB app.

I disagree with the conclusion that the "results indicate that emotions expressed by others on Facebook influence our own emotions, constituting experimental evidence for massive-scale contagion via social networks."

Facebook posts are not a true reflection of a users emotion. I believe the corrolation in the study has more to do with humans desire to conform to social norms, and our attempts to connect to others. The video below somewhat illustrates my point:

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=QxVZYiJKl1Y

This is just the latest from Facebook, I've had it with the network many times, and I have actually deactivated my profile a couple of times before. Having said that, as I personally work in art/media, I aim to reach the audience & fans on Facebook as a marketing plan, so (as I know) to be able to administrate the Pages & Groups; I must have a profile. Other than that, I rarely use my profile for "status updates", personal inputs, or whatever.

I use custom lists because I hate how FB nanny-sorts the "stories" in the default timeline (read: messes up the natural order of the posts) so I doubt I was affected.

This is old news, even upsocl.com showed a video related to this. And this is only what they are publishing and letting us know, there are a lot more things they are doing with people info.

Sent from the iMore App

Never had a FB account. According to those around me, I'm 'lacking' and 'out of touch', but I think a book could be written on the dirty tricks they've pulled over the years. "Privacy is dead", did the Zuck say that?

While I know this is appalling stuff, it certainly shouldn't surprise us. It could have been worse. The US government did (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=moaxudDiDKM&list=PLzCWmviCQzIjmTDHTyelNX... )a lot of unethical experiments in the old days. Not included in the video is the Tuskegee experiment. I do believe companies do a lot of experiments on consumers without them knowing. If we want to question companies about it, though, I would encourage it. But remember, when you click "Accept terms and conditions," you know there's a limit to the questioning.