Social Media Lab Rats? Facebook Conducted A Mood Experiment On Users Without Telling Us

July 2, 2014  |  

Facebook has pissed off the internet — again! What did the social media giant do this time? Use its users as guinea pigs.

In 2012, Facebook ran a huge psychological experiment on hundreds of thousands of unwitting users. Outrage — of course — ensues, according to CNN Money.

It was all part of a study entitled “Experimental Evidence of Massive-Scale Emotional Contagion Through Social Networks.” If that title went over your head, it basically means “How We Affected the Mental State of Thousands on Facebook.” The lead investigators infiltrated the news feeds of 690,000 users and either posted a negative or positive update. Later, they observed the users’ posts to see if their planted update affected the users’ moods. And it did.

“The study found that users that were shown more negative content were slightly more likely to produce negative posts. Users in the positive group responded with more upbeat posts,” CNN Money wrote.

Creepy! Is this even legal? Well, Facebook’s terms of service clearly states it may use your information “for internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement.”

But dissenters say such an experiment can be dangerous: “Facebook‘s newsfeed study could’ve accidentally worsened depression or bipolar disorder among people who have it,” one tweeted. As a slew of angered users threatened to ditch the service, Facebook released an apologetic statement:

Having written and designed this experiment myself, I can tell you that our goal was never to upset anyone,” said Adam D. I. Kramer, the Facebook lead investigator. “I can understand why some people have concerns about it, and my coauthors and I are very sorry for the way the paper described the research and any anxiety it caused. In hindsight, the research benefits of the paper may not have justified all of this anxiety.”

What’s funny though is that while people gave Facebook hell for this experiment, USA Today notes that — apology or not — Facebook users aren’t really going anywhere.

“They comment. But they will be there tomorrow,” said Robert Nava, a 34-year-old online marketer. “It’s the same as when we complain about new traffic laws. We will still be driving. When it’s something that benefits us and satisfies our human craving to be social, we are still going to keep going back to it.”

Facebook seems to be using an act first, apologize later tactic that is effective for the social media giant. With a massive bank of rich data from users, the social network will not stop conducting its research anytime soon.

And quite frankly, its users won’t be ditching the network giant either.

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