Facebook apparently toyed with over half a million users in an effort to conduct a psychological experiment. The social media site tampered with users’ News Feeds to see how positive and negative emotions can move through social media.
Facebook targeted around 689,000 English speaking users and split them into two groups. In the first group, Facebook began removing emotionally negative posts for users’ News Feeds, while in the second group, emotionally positive posts were being removed.
“When a person loaded their News Feed, posts that contained emotional content of the relevant emotional valence, each emotional post had between a 10% and 90% chance (based on their User ID) of being omitted from their News Feed for that specific viewing,”said a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science which outlines the experiment.
Facebook claims that it did not tamper with any direct messages sent between users, and that the posts removed from a person’s News Feed could be seen by going to a friend’s page.
The internet exploded after first learning about the psychological experiment yesterday, which has prompted Facebook staff members to give an apology. Adam D.I. Kramer, one of the authors of the study and a data scientist for Facebook, realized the problems this experiment has caused.
“In hindsight, the research benefits of the paper may not have justified all of this anxiety,” he wrote on Sunday.
He added that the study authors are “very sorry for the way the paper described the research and any anxiety it caused.”
“Facebook filters user news feeds all the time, per the user agreement,” wrote Fiske, the editor of the research paper. “Thus, it fits everyday experiences for users, even if they do not often consider the nature of Facebook’s systematic interventions.”
Even if it still seems a bit invasive, Facebook’s psychological research ultimately was a success, with the social media giant learning that “in-person interaction and nonverbal cues are not strictly necessary for emotional contagion.”
It will be interesting to see if Facebook’s users deem that ‘success’ worth it, or if users will begin deleting their accounts.