Facebook Secretly Manipulated News Feeds

Brandon Dimmel's picture

Facebook is making negative headlines once again - this time for a 'data experiment' which was carried out on approximately 600,000 of its members without consent. The experiment reportedly took place two years ago, though only came to light in recent days.

According to reports, Facebook toyed with the minds of more than half a million users by altering the wording of their News Feeds. Specifically, the social network employed a special computer algorithm that cut or added words associated with positive or negative emotions in order to influence those reading the feeds. A news feed is essentially a chronology of friends' activity on the Facebook site and includes status updates, links, activities, and likes.

The goal of the 2012 experiment was to deal with a long-running complaint about Facebook: that seeing other peoples' upbeat Facebook statuses and pictures can make one feel lousy about their own lives. Several studies have shown that Facebook can have a negative impact on one's mental health. The experiment attempted to counteract this effect by bringing an artificial balance to the things people saw in their News Feeds.

The research associated with the study has now been published in the March issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (Source: wsj.com)

Data Science Team Studies Facebook Members

This is not the first time Facebook has carried out such an experiment. In fact, the social network has an entire division, known as the Data Science Team, that constantly studies data related to its members' online activity.

But now that word of the experiment is out, many Facebook users are upset. In fact, one of Facebook's own data scientists, Adam Kramer, said he wasn't sure the study was carried out in good taste. "In hindsight, the research benefits of the paper may not have justified all of this anxiety," Kramer recently noted on his own Facebook page. In other words: the benefits of carrying out such a study weren't quite worth the trouble and outrage brought forth, now that the study has made headlines. (Source: engadget.com)

Kramer went on to insist that the social network "never [meant] to upset anyone" and that Facebook's Data Science Team now takes a very different approach when studying site members. "We have come a long way since then," Kramer said. He later maintained that the internal review process has improved since the 2012 study was conducted, though no specifics were mentioned. (Source: wsj.com)

What's Your Opinion?

What do you think of this study and its ethics - specifically, the way that it was carried out? Do you believe Facebook data scientist Adam Kramer when he says that Facebook no longer carries out these kinds of experiments? With respect to using Facebook: do you find that using the site and viewing other people's profiles often affects your mood in positive or negative way?

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Sparkydog's picture

Facebook is a waste of time, and, as much as they lie, cheat, steal, and manipulate, it's ike being friends with a criminal. IMO, anyone who uses and trusts facebook is gambling with their identity and giving away their privacy, deservedly.

DavidFB's picture

In hindsight? The entire attitude of the organization is skewed. They don't even recognize inappropriate activity, even when publishing it in a journal. Then they're surprised people are not happy? How often has this happened now?

I would ask what was the motivation for the research? To manipulate users? To avoid negative perception? (oops)

Spending too much time online and not having a real life is the user issue at play. Will less positive feeds improve someone else's mood? That's not the issue so attempting to manipulate information is not going to help.

That they even thought it was appropriate is the deeper issue at play. That they feel free to manipulate users and information they post.

And that information feeds their user profiles they sell to third parties. Wonder if advertisers are asking if they're being manipulated too...

matt_2058's picture

Yep. When infopackets decided to use FB login, I created an account. All the information provided to FB was false, of course.

Anyone else see -MOST- FB junkies as needy, insecure, and attention-seeking? Or as the sh!t-starting type, hellbent on getting info to twist and manipulate?

Dennis Faas's picture

To be honest, Facebook is fantastic for finding and getting in touch with old friends quickly and easily. Other than that, I can't be bothered to use the site. Once in a while I'll peek in to see if I've received messages, but the majority of things people post on their pages are a colossal waste of time. But that's just my opinion.

From an advertiser's perspective, it could be a goldmine because of the way that people are grouped homogeneously. From a website owner's perspective: social media and people 'liking' pages brings traffic and can grow into something meaningful. Getting traffic through Google has become almost impossible, so social media is definitely a viable alternative for helping to get the word out there.

equestrian_colt's picture

They are tightly in bed with the Government. Watch anything you say or do on there or you may have the Pigs knocking on your door. Facebook needs to Mind it's own Fing Business.