Facebook apologizes, sort of, for social experiment that angered users

By Quinten Plummer, Tech Times | July 2, 6:44 PM

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After attempting to justify its mood study, Facebook apologizes to its users. Facebook data scientist attempts to soften clinical phrases used in study.

(Photo : paz.ca | Creative Commons)

In the aftermath of publicity regarding Facebook's study on users' emotion, Facebook's chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg is saying her company's social experiment wasn't communicated properly.

Already weary of Facebook's sharing of user data, users were outraged when a June 14 journal entry revealed the details of a 2012 Facebook experiment in which roughly 700,000 of the social networking company's users were unwittingly subjected to attempts to manipulate their emotions.

While in New Delhi, Sandberg took the opportunity to address the controversial experiment on her company's behalf.

"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."

For more soothing words from the company, Facebook users have been directed to a lengthy apology from Adam Kramer, a data scientist at Facebook, who posted this on his Facebook wall.

"Having written and designed this experiment myself, I can tell you that our goal was never to upset anyone," stated Kramer. "I can understand why some people have concerns about it, and my co-authors 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."

The Facebook study on user emotions took place over a week in January 2012 and was published on June 14 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The study, "Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks," collected approximately 3 million Facebook posts and sorted them into groups, based on the negative and positive words they contained. Groups of unwitting participants were only able to see either posts containing negative words or those containing positive content, as the study sought to determine whether or not emotions expressed over social networks were contagious.

Kramer said his team conducted the study because they were concerned about the emotional impact Facebook has on its users. He stated that the study occurred years ago and that Facebook research has progressed since then.

"We felt that it was important to investigate the common worry that seeing friends post positive content leads to people feeling negative or left out," Kramer stated. "At the same time, we were concerned that exposure to friends' negativity might lead people to avoid visiting Facebook. We didn't clearly state our motivations in the paper."

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