A recently released study revealed that Facebook messed with the timelines of almost 700,000 users in an attempt to study how emotions spread on the site.
Researchers from Facebook, Cornell University and the University of California-San Francisco tested whether or not the amount of positive or negative posts on a user’s timeline could affect the kind of content they themselves posted. For instance, if a user saw fewer negative posts show up from their friends, would they be less likely to post a sad status? As could have been expected, the study has raised an uproar from users and members of the media alike.
While the experiment may not be illegal, it’s certainly unethical. Facebook never asked users for their consent or informed them that they were participating in an experiment, though Facebook’s Data Use Policy (that all users agree to when they join the site) is broad enough to cover the site’s actions. For its part, Facebook responded to some of the criticisms this week and also (kind of) apologized.
“Our goal was never to upset anyone. 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,” Adam D.I. Kramer, one of the authors of the study, wrote in a Facebook post. “In hindsight, the research benefits of the paper may not have justified all of this anxiety.”
If you would like to avoid being subjected to similar experiments in the future, then use a custom List to determine what you see in your news feed. Create a list called ‘All,’ and put all of your friends and liked pages on it. This ensures that you see what you want to see.
Readers: Do you think this experiment went too far?