Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB)’s controversial ‘user emotion-manipulation‘ experiment drew outrage from all corners of the world. Many argued that the social networking giant is using its users as lab rats or guinea pigs. The attempt to manipulate emotions of hundreds of thousands of users has struck a nerve. But Facebook remains unapologetic and firm, defending that it has done nothing wrong.
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Facebook didn’t publish the study until recently
In 2012, Facebook conducted a psychological study on 689,003 unwitting users. Researchers at Menlo Park tweaked the News Feeds of those users, skewing the content to be either more positive or more negative. The social networking company conducted the study for one full week to see if it could alter the emotional state of users by showing more positive or more negative content.
A team of researchers led by data scientist Adam Kramer tracked users’ status updates to find out if the content had an impact on what they wrote. They found that what users see in their News Feeds does affect they moods. Users (or guinea pigs) who saw more positive posts wrote more positive things on their walls. The pattern was the same with negative posts.
Facebook published this study in the March, 2014 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of sciences. The outrage over the experiment highlight the delicate line between the user privacy and ambitions of companies that control data of millions of users. MIT professor Kate Crawford said that it is unacceptable for Facebook’s terms of service to force users to participate in experiments. Facebook users began posting comments on Adam Kramer’s Facebook page. Many users and experts said that what the Menlo Park-based company did was unethical.
Facebook refuses to apologize
However, the Mark Zuckerberg-led company is unapologetic. In a statement to the Atlantic, a company spokesman defended the experiment. He said, “We do research to improve our services and make the content people see on Facebook as relevant and engaging as possible. We carefully consider what research we do and have a strong internal review process.” Well, that means the experiment that treated about 700,000 users as lab rats and toyed with their emotions was a “carefully considered” study.
Facebook shares were down 0.34% to $67.35 at 3:23 PM EDT on Monday.