Protests Erupt Over Facebook’s Secret Psychology Experiment

Rob Wipond
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Facebook altered the news feeds of 689,003 users as part of a massive experiment in “emotional contagion,” according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Led by a Facebook data scientist, Facebook altered people’s feeds to include either more positive or negative posts, then monitored user responses. “Emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness,” concluded the authors. Although users consent to being part of “research” when they sign on to Facebook, hundreds of news media are raising concerns about Facebook deliberately and secretly trying to make people sad.

“If you are exposing people to something that causes changes in psychological status, that’s experimentation,” James Grimmelmann, a professor of technology and the law at the University of Maryland told Slate. “This is the kind of thing that would require informed consent.”

Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks (Kramer, Adam et al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, June 2014. 8788–8790, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1320040111)

Facebook’s Unethical Experiment (Slate, June 28, 2014)

Also see:

Everything We Know About Facebook’s Secret Mood Manipulation Experiment (The Atlantic, June 28, 2014)

 

 

10 COMMENTS

  1. Copycat — Hope you don’t mind if ii piggyback here, because contrary to popular sentiment i consider it outrageous that people put all their personal info on a site that is there for the purpose of monitoring the populace and collecting information for corporate (and presumably government) data banks.

    Check out this link featuring the internet hall of famer/developer of Linux, R. Stallman

    http://rt.com/shows/sophieco/snowden-leak-privacy-surveillance-093/

    Additionally by putting in search terms like “dangers of facebook,” etc. you’ll find all the info you need to reconsider any notion that FB is a “valuable organizing tool.”

  2. I don’t have a Facebook account. I even closed recently the one that I had to oppose the Murphy bill.

    Other than I didn’t really get the point of sharing private info for others to see (since I am for the most part a very private person), I was always concerned that something like this would happen so I didn’t even do it to be “cool” with my friends.

    I was called “paranoid” and every other epithet of the book for my concerns. Who’s laughing now?

  3. I think deliberately manipulating the moods of more than half a million people – including tens of thousands at high risk for depression – without their knowledge or consent, is unconscionable and cruel. To me, depression is torture (that’s not hyperbole) and the researchers are morally equivalent to guards at Gitmo.

    Here’s the article I wrote this morning for Examiner.com:
    http://www.examiner.com/article/facebook-changed-over-680-000-users-news-feeds-for-psychology-experiment

    The headline says, “Protests erupt,” but I don’t see anything about protests in the article. Protests would be lovely! Please keep us updated.

  4. When I heard about this disgusting violation of some people’s psyche on FB, it was repulsive enough. Since I value my privacy I intentionally never joined Facebook, and advised caution with my two sons, who were teens, when the FB craze began. I shared with them, I believed FB was just another social experiment and their generation, especially, were the guinea pigs.

    My oldest son’s girlfriend who he fell hard for, and ultimately married, just couldn’t get enough of FB as it grew exponentially in popularity. She posted their dating, then engagement and of course wedding pics.

    Sadly, as my son’s life hit the perfect storm of adversity, including two episodes of altered reality, he moved 4 1/2 hours away “to start anew and heal” from all he was dealt so quickly in what should have been the prime of his life. We, his parents ( especially his father) visited often. After our son’s unforeseen, and horrific suicide, 7 months later, we returned 6 weeks later to look at his cell messages, and go thru his computer. Yes, our son, living isolated, was unable to find a job during the recession, though he was skilled and licensed in a trade. After my son’s memorial, neighbor twin young women, who were friends of my son and his wife, told us they “unfriended” her over the holidays, 2011, as they saw FB pics she had been flaunting of her new lover who had replaced my son ( their divorce was not yet final).

    Imagine, my son was looking at those pics on FB, multiple times a day, and us, not realizing how deep in depression he was over all he had lost. The month my son so tragically took his life: Jan, 2012. As I read this story and see the month FB manipulated certain people’s feeds, I want to vomit. I pray my son was not one of the chosen FB ” victims”. This is so grotesque. I can hardly stomach how society is decaying.

  5. “Emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness,”
    Well, they did not exactly discover America with that one. But I totally agree – if a sociology/psychology researcher wanted to do such a study he/she would need to obtain ethical permits. But if you’re a corporation it’s wild wild west.