Date
20 September 2017
Facebook news feeds were manipulated to gauge user reaction to certain types of posts, according to researchers. Photo: AFP
Facebook news feeds were manipulated to gauge user reaction to certain types of posts, according to researchers. Photo: AFP

Facebook hit by unauthorized research backlash

Facebook is facing a backlash from a 2012 psychology experiment on hundreds of thousands of members without their knowledge or consent.

The week-long study on more than 689,000 members found that those exposed to fewer positive stories on the site were more likely to write negative posts, and vice versa, the Financial Times reported Sunday.

The research was published earlier this year. It was co-authored by Adam Kramer who works in Facebook’s core data science team, Jamie Guillory, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California in San Francisco, and Jeffrey Hancock, a professor at Cornell University.

The experiment manipulated the extent to which users were exposed to emotional expressions in their news feed, the researchers said.

Emotions expressed by others on Facebook constitute “massive-scale contagion via social networks” and even small effects can have large aggregated consequences,” the researchers were quoted sa saying. 

A report about the research in the New Scientist magazine prompted a backlash, with most of the complaints centered on the fact that participants in the study did not give their consent.

“Facebook manipulated the emotions of its users. Unethical? Yes. 1984? Yes,” said Jacob Shiach, founder of Brightwork CoResearch, a research space in Houston, Texas, referencing the George Orwell novel about an oppressive totalitarian government.

Susan Fiske, a professor of psychology at Princeton University who edited the study for publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of America, said that she initially had ethical concerns.

Facebook defended the study, saying none of the data used was associated with a specific Facebook account and there is no unnecessary collection of data in such initiatives.

– Contact us at [email protected]

RA

EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe