Facebook has been widely criticized for their latest experiment and rightfully so. At the core of their experiment was manipulating users’ news feed to display either positive or negative posts from their contacts. About 700,000 unsuspecting Facebook users were served altered feed to manipulate their emotions in 2012, which triggered a complaint filed by privacy activists insisting that this type of practice violates users privacy agreement and messes with people’s minds and, obviously, emotions.
Normally scientists would need to obtain users permission for this type of experiment but back in 2012 anyone using Facebook had to sign privacy agreement that stated that their data could be used to improve Facebook products, which was later modified to agreeing to use this data for research.
Wondering about results of this controversial experiment? Well, the conclusion was that people who were served more positive messages were more likely to write positive posts, which sounds pretty much like common sense but scientists wanted a proof and now they have it.
It’s not a first time that Facebook runs experiments on their unsuspecting users. Years ago thousands of Facebook users received a message that they were logged out because they appear to be using fake names. To be able to continue using social network users had to prove they were real people using real names. This may sound like a usual thing these days, except that Facebook actually knew these people were real people using real names. The purpose of that experiment was to test their new security system, which of course falls nicely under TOS agreement.
While their login experiment was probably only minor annoyance for users, their 2012 experiment on emotions raises more questions. With 1.3 billion users one may expect all kinds of people using this social network, including severely depressed people and suicidal individuals. It doesn’t take a PhD in behavioral sciences to figure that serving negative feed while avoiding most or all positive messages to such people is not the best idea.