Facebook ran a massive psychological experiment on about 600,000 of its users. The experiment aimed to determine whether manipulating the sentiment of the content shown in their news feed would affect the users emotional state.
The paper, “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks,” was published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The above paper described how Facebook’s data scientists tweaked the algorithm to show users posts on news feed that skewed number of positive or negative terms. So sample users got a higher ratio of positive terms (or news) and others saw more negative updates on their news feed.
Facebook Psychology Experiment
On analyzing the future updates by those users over the course of a week, Facebook was able to establish that people did respond with increased positivity or negativity of their own. Thus answering the question on whether emotional states can be affected via the usage of social networks.
While this was a big win for Facebook data scientists who wanted to solve a mystery about modern psychology, it also left a lot of users upset due to the Guinea pig nature of this psychological experiment.
When you sign up for Facebook, you click a box that says you agree to Facebook Data Use Policy, which gives the company right to access and use the information posted on the site. The primary uses for your data are related to advertising, however, there is a bit about “internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement.” Data scientists state that their experiments were well within the Facebook’s terms of services and there was no requirement for explicit consent from the sample users used for this experiment.
Adam Kramer, the lead author for this study said that he joined Facebook because “Facebook data constitutes the largest field study in the history of the world.” While none of the scientists actually see which users were being tested or gain access to your personal information, this experiment is a reminder of how Facebook is not only a place where we post photos and updates, it is a research lab with us a research subjects for such psychology experiments.