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Criticism looms over Facebook's newsfeed emotion study

by Mark Tyson on 30 June 2014, 11:00

Tags: Facebook

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Facebook is facing criticism following the revelation that it secretly conducted an emotional manipulation study. The study took place during one week in January 2012 on nearly 700,000 users, without their knowledge.

The world's largest social media site collaborated with Cornell University and the University of California at San Francisco which published details of the research recently. The researchers manipulated information posted on users' home pages in order to find out if "exposure to emotions led people to change their own posting behaviours," reports the BBC.

The process of experimenting with "emotional contagion" involved Facebook's filtering of users' news feeds, including the flow of their comments, videos, pictures and web links shared by other users in their network. "Emotions expressed by friends, via online social networks, influence our own moods, constituting, to our knowledge, the first experimental evidence for massive-scale emotional contagion via social networks," the study findings state.

Concerns were raised over the way the research was carried out, without any user knowledge. But the experiment was in no way illegal, reports The Atlantic, as in Facebook's terms of service, users consent to give up their data for "data analysis, testing, [and] research" when they sign up to join the social media network.

However ethical questions remain:

"Let's call the Facebook experiment what it is: a symptom of a much wider failure to think about ethics, power and consent on platforms," said Kate Crawford in a Twitter post.

"I wonder if Facebook KILLED anyone with their emotion manipulation stunt. At their scale and with depressed people out there, it's possible," tweeted privacy activist Lauren Weinstein.

A report by The Guardian also says that Labour MP Jim Sheridan has called for a parliamentary investigation into such an intrusive study "This is extraordinarily powerful stuff and if there is not already legislation on this, then there should be, to protect people." Sheridan went on to say "They are manipulating material from people's personal lives and I am worried about the ability of Facebook and others to manipulate people's thoughts in politics or other areas. If people are being thought-controlled in this kind of way there needs to be protection and they at least need to know about it."

Leader of the study, Adam D.I. Kramer, posted a public apology on his Facebook page on Sunday afternoon, saying: "I can understand why some people have concerns about it, and my co-authors and I are very sorry for the way the paper described the research and any anxiety it caused."

Kramer explained that the research was conducted as the team felt that it was "important to investigate the common worry that seeing friends post positive content leads to people feeling negative or left out. At the same time, we were concerned that exposure to friends' negativity might lead people to avoid visiting Facebook." Kramer admitted that "In hindsight, the research benefits of the paper may not have justified all of this anxiety."

This research reminds me of the well known radiators and drains personalities idea. Making Facebook into a consistently negative news source for a large group of people for an experiment doesn't sound very enlightening or worthwhile.



HEXUS Forums :: 9 Comments

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Vote independence for Scotland
get rid of the conservative elite, and labour = Tories
tomthum
Vote independence for Scotland
get rid of the conservative elite, and labour = Tories

What does that have to do with the price of cheese?
tomthum
Vote independence for Scotland
get rid of the conservative elite, and labour = Tories
Another one of Salmond's brown shirts found their keyboard? See, I can be offensive and irrelevant too! :p
AlexKitch
What does that have to do with the price of cheese?
In an independent Scotland, all cheese will be free…?


Getting back to the article, there's two lessons to be learned:
1. Read those terms and conditions carefully!
2. crossy is very glad that he's not on Facebook.
AlexKitch
What does that have to do with the price of cheese?

After a very quick search, the price of cheese originating from Scotland may increase if there's import/export duty applied. But from the list I found (www.taste-of-scotland.com/cheese.html) I don't think I'll be affected that much, prefer a strong mature cheddar myself and there's plenty of brands to choose from…

:p Sorry I couldn't resist!

Back to the topic though, I'm not surprised by Facebook, they have always had the attitude that they can do what they want and don't care if it's legally/morally right or wrong.

The only reason I still have a Facebook account is to get extra entries in the Hexus competitions! Seriously, that's the only reason I haven't closed my account!
crossy
In an independent Scotland, all cheese will be free…?
Really! That seems like a proper solid reason to have independence, none of the politics twaddle. :)


crossy
Getting back to the article, there's two lessons to be learned:
1. Read those terms and conditions carefully!
2. crossy is very glad that he's not on Facebook.

I have a facebook account purely to stay in touch with my Canada living daughter…as with all other web sites my brain has been blanking all ads.