Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Facebook's Controversial Mood Manipulation

Did you know that in early 2012 for one week Facebook manipulated the content viewed on its News Feeds? Facebook conducted a research manipulating what 690,000 subjects saw, the results of this experiment where published this month on the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

The research was designed to show two groups of people different types of content in their News Feeds, one group saw mostly positive posts from their friends while the other group was shown mostly negative posts. Interestingly the people in the negative posts group wrote a higher number of negative posts themselves and the positive group wrote a higher number of positive posts. The implications? Facebook successfully manipulated subjects mood making them happier or sadder for a week. 

Facebook's terms of service allows them to perform this kind of research but many users are outraged and believe that this experiment is a dangerous form of social manipulation. Also, users feel that their privacy was violated because they were was not informed consent which raises ethical concerns.

Adam D. I. Kramer, the Facebook researcher who designed the experiment said "I can understand why some people have concerns about it, and my coauthors and I are very sorry for the way the paper described the research and any anxiety it caused" Kramer wrote. "In hindsight, the research benefits of the paper may not have justified all of this anxiety."

Susan Fiske, the Princeton professor who edited the research stated to The Atlantic "I was concerned, until I queried the authors and they said their local institutional review board had approved it, and apparently on the grounds that Facebook apparently manipulates people's News Feeds all the time...I understand why people have concerns. I think their beef is with Facebook, really, not the research."

Gabriela Borja
SEED Branding Studio