Back in 2012, Facebook launched a mood manipulation study of 700,000 unaware users. The internet found out about the study this week and exploded in anger. Facebook apologized right? Not for the study. They apologized over how the study was communicated to users.
“This was part of ongoing research companies do to test different products, and that was what it was; it was poorly communicated,” Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, told the Wall Street Journal. “And for that communication we apologize. We never meant to upset you.”
Yeah, that’s not what Facebook users want to hear.
These are the first comments made by a Facebook exec since the study blew up in their faces earlier in the week. What happened exactly? Researchers at Facebook tweaked thousands of users’ feeds to show more positive or negative content in an attempt to manipulate the users’ mood.
Did the differing content affect a user’s mood? Yep. Those who saw more negative content tended to write more negative posts. Same goes for those who saw positive content.
Facebook’s total lack of communication surrounding the study was the biggest issue. Which, Sandberg apologized for today. Academics have weighed in after the results of the study appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Some believe it was unethical to manipulate a person’s emotions without consent.
Facebook data researchers have had free rein to do what they want.
“There’s no review process, per se,” Andrew Ledvina, who worked at Facebook as a data scientist from 2012 to 2013, told the Journal. “Anyone on that team could run a test,” he said. “They’re always trying to alter people’s behavior.”
Will this blow up lead to some changes? Facebook says they have implemented stricter guidelines. These include research having to be reviewed by a 50-person panel specializing in privacy and data security.
Facebook points out that other companies do similar user studies. Yeah, except they don’t have access to everyone’s daily life. Google tracks links. Amazon tracks shopping patterns. Facebook tracks your personal life.