Facebook manipulated users’ moods in secret experiment
by Andrew Griffin
Jun 29, 2014
Facebook manipulated the emotions of hundreds of thousands of its users, and found that they would pass on happy or sad emotions, it has said. The experiment, for which researchers did not gain specific consent, has provoked criticism from users with privacy and ethical concerns.
For one week in 2012, Facebook skewed nearly 700,000 users’ news feeds to either be happier or sadder than normal. The experiment found that after the experiment was over users tended to post positive or negative comments according to the skew that was given to their news feed.
Read more: Facebook responds to users’ outrage
The research has provoked distress because of the manipulation involved.
Studies of real world networks show that what the researchers call ‘emotional contagion’ can be transferred through networks. But researchers say that the study is the first evidence that the effect can happen without direct interaction or nonverbal clues.
Anyone who used the English version of Facebook automatically qualified for the experiment, the results of which were published earlier this month. Researchers analysed the words used in posts to automatically decide whether they were likely to be positive or negative, and shifted them up or down according to which group users fell into.
It found that emotions spread across the network, and that friends tended to respond more to negative posts. Users who were exposed to more emotional posts of either type tended to withdraw from posting themselves.
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