Facebook is sorry (kind of) for conducting a psychological experiment on 700,000 unsuspecting Facebook users.
The emotional contagion study involved tweaking Facebook users’ newsfeeds for one week in January 2012. The goal was to see how reducing the number of positive or negative posts in users’ newsfeeds could impact the content they themselves posted. If a person’s newsfeed was filled with negative posts and content, the user was more likely to post negative content, and vice versa for positive content.
In other words, your mood can change depending on what you are seeing on Facebook.
“Facebook’s data scientists and researchers found that emotional states can be transmitted between people without face-to-face interaction,” said Time.
The study was published in the March issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. When word of the study hit the (Internet) street, many Facebook users were understandably outraged.
Sure, the psychological experiment is most likely legal. In Facebook’s current terms of service, users relinquish the use of their data for “data analysis, testing, [and] research.” But the question remains: Is it ethical? It’s one thing to observe users’ data. It’s an entirely different issue when you intentionally and secretly manipulate their behavior.
The social networking company responded publicly Wednesday. According to The Wall Street Journal, Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg offered an apology of sorts.
“This was part of ongoing research companies do to test different products, and that was what it was; it was poorly communicated. And for that communication we apologize. We never meant to upset you.”
Notice that Sandberg didn’t actually apologize for Facebook conducting a study intended to manipulate people’s emotions.
Translation: Facebook is not sorry for doing the emotion contagion study. It was done in the normal course of business. It is sorry that everyone is upset about the fact that it purposely made some users upset a couple years ago.
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