News Column

Facebook Experimenting on Users

June 29, 2014

By Scott Kleinberg, Chicago Tribune

facebook experiments, on users

June 29--This might be the reason Facebook doesn't have a dislike button.

The social network has been conducting secret experiments on us.


What sounds like something from a work of fiction is something real you can read in a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which explains how and why Facebook used nearly 700,000 news feeds and manipulated them in the name of research to study "emotional contagion through social networks." (click here for PDF file )

It only takes a quick search, not science, to hypothesize how this revelation is making people feel: Used.

What exactly did the researchers do to upset so many people? They tweaked the algorithm that surfaces content into the News Feed to change the amount of positive and negative content. Then they tested whether those changes would result in changes to what users posted. So did seeing more or less happy or sad content ultimately change your sharing habits and your mood?

The content they were seeing was still content from their friends, so they likely would never have noticed they were being fed a certain type of content, whether happy, neutral or sad.

Brilliant? Perhaps.

Ethical? Up for debate.

Legal? Certainly seems that way.

According to the terms of service you agree to and probably don't read: "in addition to helping people see and find things that you do and share, we may use the information we receive about you ... for internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement."

Since you probably don't remember how you felt if you were one of the test subjects, here's your chance to let us know how you feel now in the comments.


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Original headline: Facebook has been experimenting on you

Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)

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