Recently Facebook revealed details about its terrifying ‘news feed experiment’ to control emotions and influence moods of people. This has already caused anger among Facebook users and Activist calling it ‘scandalous’ and ‘disturbing’.
In 2012, Facebook deliberately manipulated the ‘News Feed’ of nearly 700,000 of its users as a part of an experiment called ‘Emotional Contagion’. Apparently Facebook has been constantly carrying out studies to understand users patterns for targeted advertising and eventual monetization of information. However the ‘Emotional Contagion’ study was different.
The Facebook users who took part in this experiment were not informed about the experiment, either before or after their news feeds were manipulated. In fact, you may have taken part without knowing anything about it.
In order to figure out how Facebook affects one’s emotions, Researchers deliberately pushed manipulated stories to appear in the ‘News Feed’ of users. In this course half of the users under study saw positive stories such as kitten videos, funny videos and happy emoticons, while others were force-fed depressing stories such as ill-health, breakups and sad emoticons.
The researchers found that that users exposed to negative feeds or sad stories posted more negative status updates while those exposed to positive feeds posted positive stories.
Facebook might have achieved what it wanted to through this Experiment, But right now its facing tremendous anger from Activists and politicians. There are all sorts of conversations going on about whether or not this experiment was Ethical.
Jim Sheridan, a member of the Commons media select committee said:
“They are manipulating material from people’s personal lives and I am worried about the ability of Facebook and others to manipulate people’s thoughts in politics or other areas. If people are being thought-controlled in this kind of way there needs to be protection and they at least need to know about it.”
Was this Experiment Legal?
It was claimed that Facebook may have breached legal guidelines by not informing its users they were being manipulated in the experiment. However Facebook said altering the news feeds was “consistent with Facebook’s data use policy, to which all users agree prior to creating an account on Facebook, constituting informed consent for this research”.
Facebook spokesperson said:
“The research was carried out to improve our services and to make the content people see on Facebook as relevant and engaging as possible”.
But Activists voiced fears that this type of experiments are intrusive and extraordinarily powerful stuff and could be used for political purposes. Let us know what you feel about such experiments.