Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has apologized to Facebook users for the unannounced and just recently unearthed psychological experiment it conducted on a small number of users back in 2012. She says that the news feed experiment was “poorly communicated”.
The experiment, which was revealed in a study called “Experimental Evidence Of Massive-Scale Emotional Contagion Through Social Networks”, has been denounced by many as Facebook crossing the line. A couple of years ago, Facebook researchers decided to manually alter the news feeds of around 700,000 users (a very small percentage of Facebook’s one billion+ user base) by showing them more or fewer positive or negative posts.
The goal was to see if emotion was ‘contagious’ on social media, in other words, would seeing more negatively-themed status updates make users post more negative updates in return.
The study produced fairly weak results.
“This was part of ongoing research companies do to test different products, and that was what it was; it was poorly communicated,” said Sandberg. “And for that communication we apologize. We never meant to upset you.”
“We take privacy and security at Facebook really seriously because that is something that allows people to share,” she continued.
Although Facebook’s Terms of Service allow for “research”, the clause that covers this was added months after the experiment in question. To some, it was an unethical overreach by Facebook – one of many privacy violations from the decade-old company.
One of the experiment’s authors has stated that the whole thing was about providing a better service to users.
We’ll see if Sandberg’s statement has any effect on a new probe that the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office has launched. They’re currently looking as what, if any, laws Facebook broke in the operations of the experiment.
Image via Wikimedia Commons