Facebook Experiment Altered Users State of Mind

Blackwell Stith

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Jun 28, 2014
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Facebook Experiment Altered Users State of Mind



The findings from a recent Facebook study has prompted negative backlash concerning the morality of how the research was conducted.

Privacy activists from the Electronic Privacy Information Center stated Thursday in a formal complaint to US regulators that a recent Facebook experiment "messed with people's minds", prompting an immediate investigation. In their complaint to the Federal Trade Commision, they insisted the widely criticized study mislead users and violated an agreement on privacy settings, and were quoted as saying "The company purposefully messed with people's minds.

According to the complaint, this experiment altered the news feeds on Facebook in an attempt to stimulate both positive and negative emotional responses. Not only did the social media site "[fail] to follow standard ethical protocols for human subject research", but neglected to get their user's permission or notify unknowing participants that their information was being disclosed to researchers. The privacy group requested that the FTC not only investigate the experiment thoroughly, but order a cease and desist on any similar practices Facebook might be conducting and make the algorithm used in displaying content on the news feed public.

The study in question was conducted back in 2012 in order to better understand "emotional contagion". It is reported that Facebook intentionally altered the emotional subject matter of news feeds belonging to 700,000 users, with some receiving uplifting entries and others receiving depressing entries. When the findings of this research was published last June, the feedback that ensued was not only that of outrage but inquisitive on the ethics of the act.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center was one of many similar groups that filed complaints back in 2009 and 2010 which subsequently led to Facebook's 20-year agreement with the FTC on privacy. A 2012 settlement with the FTC prohibits Facebook from misrepresenting the privacy or security of its data. Chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg publicly apologized this week for "communicating terribly" about the research, and assured that "we take privacy at Facebook really seriously."

This complaint comes just a day after British authorities announced an investigation over the experiment.

Let your voice be heard in the comments section.

Source:The Nation [http://www.nation.com.pk/snippets/05-Jul-2014/facebook-experiment-messed-with-minds]

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The Rogue Wolf

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Blackwell Stith said:
(Facebook) Chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg publicly apologized this week for "communicating terribly" about the research, and assured that "we take privacy at Facebook really seriously."
"Communicating terribly"? "Really seriously"? You'd think they'd at least make a half-hearted attempt to sound sincere.

...oh wait, it's Facebook; they don't need to. They know their users are hooked.
 

Avaholic03

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I'm not quite sure how something in a facebook news feed could affect my emotions. Maybe I just don't take facebook as seriously as some people. I'm actually quite confused by this whole story. Perhaps more specific examples would help?
 

Baresark

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Just another reason why people should not spend so much time on social media. I prefer my friends in the flesh, and everyone else should too. That said, when I spent a little less than a year away from all of my family and my friends, Facebook was great for keeping up with them. However, I never spent a minute looking at my "newsfeed" because there is nothing happening there. If I wanted to talk to a specific friend, I did it that way, as if I wasn't almost 3000 miles away from them.
 

tacotrainwreck

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In altering its news feeds, Facebook's experiment proved that 1 in 865,000 Facebook users actually pays attention to its news feeds...
 

lacktheknack

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Avaholic03 said:
I'm not quite sure how something in a facebook news feed could affect my emotions. Maybe I just don't take facebook as seriously as some people. I'm actually quite confused by this whole story. Perhaps more specific examples would help?
It's really simple, dude. They probably went and controlled the news-feed output of a whole bunch of users, loading up some with positivity and joyous articles of greatness and others with doom-an-gloom articles and statuses, and then checked to see if their posting habits changed. (This is speculation, but none of it is unlikely.)

And yes, I fully believe that it has a significant effect on my emotional state. I actually deleted someone off my friendlist because she only ever posted "Woe Is Me" statuses and it made me dislike reading my news feed.
 

AstaresPanda

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yeh i dont use facebook as much as i used to and if it were not for that fact that everyone seems to have one by law, its bundled in with every phone and tablet these days its stupid. I would not use it, but if i did not have one i would loose contact with ppl, facebook has turned friendships and ppl lazy. At least with things like msn messenger etc you would SPEAK. I dont know but this just makes me wanna delete my account, all i ever get is crap im not interested in from ppl i dont even speak to.
 

Steve the Pocket

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Honestly, conducting social experiments on its users in secret is probably one of the less unethical things Facebook has done. Hell, let's keep going; maybe we can finally get to the bottom of what makes Internet trolls tick... and figure out how to yank it out of their clockworks.
 

luvd1

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And this was why I dumped Facebook. Is there no one in the Facebook building that thought this might not be the best idea? How evil do you have to be to work there?
 

loa

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So what were the findings again?
Negativity invokes negative responses or something?
Seriously, what were they trying to prove with this "experiment"?
 

elvor0

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Y'know what? I'm /not/ that bothered. For once, it seems I am the only one, but it feels like people are hating on Facebook just because...it's Facebook and Facebook is satan.

Frankly you'd have to be incredibly emotionally unstable in order for a few posts that Facebooks algorithm deems "negative" to genuinely effect your mood for more than a few seconds, minutes at best. If a few negative posts effect you for the rest of the day, you've likely got bigger problems then someone whining on Facebook. On the flipside, I may find something someone posts enjoyable, but that's unlikely to effect me for the rest of the day.

If they'd told people they were running this experiment it would've skewed the results. No one is hurt by this, your posts just would've showed up in a slightly different order to normal. They didn't make up posts, filter them or edit them, they just highlighted the negative/positive ones first.

To be honest, the thing that I find off about this experiment is...what was the point? That they can do it, or the findings? Because we know negativity breeds negativity.

Now I'm not saying they should be allowed to do whatever they want, but I think this /particular/ case is being blown out of proportion.
 

Thaluikhain

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Eh, not seeing how they could really get this to work, or what the point of it would be.
 

PirateRose

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Explains why reactions to things can get blown out of proportion so quickly on the internet these days.

Also, humans don't like the idea that we are influenced by others. Especially in the United States. We all like to think we are independent thinkers and special snow flakes. Just hang out in a retail store for a while and watch the flow of people on an average day. The human race is like cattle at times. People walk through the front doors in groups of random unrelated people, then move through the store in waves. There will be long lines at the registers one moment, then next moment nothing for while, then again, long lines.

I've always wanted to figure out why completely unrelated people move in groups through stores. Some strange social phenomenon going on.
 

misg

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This is another reason why I don't use facebook. I deleted my account years ago.
 

Strazdas

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Baresark said:
I prefer my friends in the flesh, and everyone else should too.
i like something and you should like it too because i like it. thats what it sounds. there are people who actually like internet communication you know?

Steve the Pocket said:
Honestly, conducting social experiments on its users in secret is probably one of the less unethical things Facebook has done. Hell, let's keep going; maybe we can finally get to the bottom of what makes Internet trolls tick... and figure out how to yank it out of their clockworks.
if there is something i learn from internet trolls, is that as soon as they realize whats happening they are going to destroy facebook. trolls are vengeful and have plenty of resources.

PirateRose said:
I've always wanted to figure out why completely unrelated people move in groups through stores. Some strange social phenomenon going on.
i worked at supermarket, did not notice any such phenomenom.

one way to explain it however could be that thats how the store is designed. you got certain items/sales placed strategically in certainl locations as to make people stop for a while and thus more likely to pick things up. this creates traffic jams and once they move past it they keep walking in group. i personally like to go at it backwards and change idrections intentionally to mess with that patterning. but then im the kind of person that makes a list and buys only from that list.
 

Baresark

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Strazdas said:
Baresark said:
I prefer my friends in the flesh, and everyone else should too.
i like something and you should like it too because i like it. thats what it sounds. there are people who actually like internet communication you know?
I didn't say I disliked it, I said I prefer the physical form of people. The main reason is that, as humans, we communicate in many different ways. Words on a screen does not and cannot do communication justice. The thing that people fail to realize about things like Facebook is that it's just a facade you put on. Perhaps I prefer my friends in the flesh and you don't is because I like people to see the real me as much as possible.
 

briankoontz

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loa said:
So what were the findings again?
Negativity invokes negative responses or something?
Seriously, what were they trying to prove with this "experiment"?
They are trying to further control and exploit their subjects by determining the outcome of "positive" and "negative" news feeds. Depending on which news feeds the users responded to in a way which benefits the rulers of Facebook, those rulers would then provide more of that type of feed. It's the same principle as targeted advertising.

Facebook is a virtual kingdom, and like all kingdoms there's a system of governance. Rulers like to know what the subjects are thinking and how they think, to improve their control over the situation.

In the early days of the internet people reveled in the freedom and anonymity - it was the Wild West except without the brutality. Those happy people who are no longer with us are rolling over in their graves at what much of the internet has become.
 

Strazdas

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Baresark said:
Strazdas said:
Baresark said:
I prefer my friends in the flesh, and everyone else should too.
i like something and you should like it too because i like it. thats what it sounds. there are people who actually like internet communication you know?
I didn't say I disliked it, I said I prefer the physical form of people. The main reason is that, as humans, we communicate in many different ways. Words on a screen does not and cannot do communication justice. The thing that people fail to realize about things like Facebook is that it's just a facade you put on. Perhaps I prefer my friends in the flesh and you don't is because I like people to see the real me as much as possible.
Just because you like it does not mean everyone else should though.