Facebook ran secret psychological experiments on users

A report from a team at Facebook that was first published in a scientific journal earlier this month reveals that the social network ran secret psychological experiments on 600,000 users without their awareness.

The report, published in the Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences, stated that back in January 2012, Facebook changed those users' news feeds to highlight either positive or negative posts from their friends. The paper stated:

When positive expressions were reduced, people produced fewer positive posts and more negative posts; when negative expressions were reduced, the opposite pattern occurred. These results indicate that emotions expressed by others on Facebook influence our own emotions, constituting experimental evidence for massive-scale contagion via social networks.

Facebook's Data Use Policy does give the company broad access to conduct these kinds of experiments, stating that users agree to "data analysis, testing, research and service improvement" when they sign up to use the social network. The paper does state that a machine was used to handle this experiment and no personal data from those 600,000 users was accessed.

If you are a Facebook user, how do you feel about the fact that it's possible your news feed could be manipulated in this way by the company for research?

Source: The Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences via AV Club

John Callaham
  • Not surprised at all.
  • I'm not either. However, it doesn't bother me one bit. The fact that people are still surprised by this is what bothers me. We live in a new day and age where if you are on the internet, you should expect the services you use to do what they want to do. OH NO YOU MEAN BACK TWO YEARS AGO IN JANUARY THEY PUT MORE BAD STATUSES ON MY NEWS FEED THEN GOOD?!?! DAMN YOU FACEBOOK!
    I love how no one says anything about what the study actually showed. That just because your online friends are sad about their pathetic lives, that makes you sad about yours too. That should be what people really focus on.
  • This is really the only way to obtain reliable data. I'm OK with it too BTW. Posted via Android Central App
  • I say we put Zuckerberg in a steel box with a vile of hydrocyanic acid and test superposition of states.
  • Really? By manipulating "your" page to suit their needs for testing and data? Why does FB need this data anyways? To sell it to researchers for more money? HAhaha Just another reason I hate FB and Fuckerburg....
  • If my page is set up with most recent stories it's probably not affected by this. Most people are complacent to top stories, which is likely where this data was obtained from. I always double check times and dates for stories I read because I hate it when it's set to top stories. Posted via Android Central App
  • Let's just remember one thing - it is really THEIR page and THEIR service that you signed up for and agreed a user-agreement (contract) stating how and when they could use whatever you post/share/like, etc.; all for free might I add. Just because a person decides to divulge all their personal information on the internet of all places doesn't mean Facebook shouldn't rightfully use said data for anonymous analysis through their service.
  • So true. All I can do is just laugh about and be glad I was never interested in shit like that. Just goes to show how much of your digital 'soul' people sell w/o even thinking of it when they click 'Agree' on them TOAs. If it bothers person that bad, close your accounts. No need for anybody to bitch about then turn around 5 sec later checking your latest update. The more you use it, the more they think you're cool w/ the BS they'll push on doing to you. Posted via Android Central App
  • I'm not surprised and I I don't know if I was one of the people but I don't regally care. On top of that 90% of posts on facebook are bitching drama so the fact that facebook was able to find "positive" posts is what surprises me. Posted via Android Central App
  • l couldn't agree more, the mjority of what's on Facebook is BS. All those digital friends, you know the multitude of nobodies that make up that number users so eagerly crave to make them feel better about themselves. Wake up call ① they don't really care or want to know how you are, what your eating or doing, to them your just a number to make them feel better. Wake up call ② it don't work!
    Does Facebook give a monkies of course not there relying on peoples insecurity to make Billions!
  • Got rid of that shit almost two years ago. If it bothers people that bad, don't use it!
  • Logic will not be tolerated while discussing society. It's not my fault I got drunk and posted my credit card number, pictures of where my hidden key is, and a naked selfie. People should be better than using things like that regardless of my discretion. Society is at fault for social media and my actions.
  • Exactly. I didn't like it so I walked. Others are free to do the same or just bitch.
  • I hate FB. I do have a page but I check it once every 6 months or so just to see how many idiots want to friend me. But I also like to bitch so I want my FB and bitch about it too!! :) Mark Fuckerburg might be rich but he's a dork....
  • "Logic will not be tolerated while discussing society." Brilliant line. +2 internets.
  • Some people thrive on drama, which is what FB really breeds IMO. That is an addiction of sorts. I do not feel bad for folks who are sharing their lives on FB. Until they bitch about privacy, which is at a premium these days. Where I get disgusted is when people think its a normal form of communication. It is not. Dont wonder why I didnt get back to you about, like, Becky's party, you know? OMG! lOl
  • Haha thank you!
  • FaceBook = Encouraged Cyper Stalking and a place to just ramble on thoughts without filtering them
  • It's been about 5 years for me since I ditched 'The Book'. And I have never missed anything less.
  • I'm already annoyed with FB for manipulating the feed to Popular/Top stories, with or without any social or psychological experiments. Since I always switch to "Most Recent" (and grumble every time I have to do it), any experiments are lost on me.
  • All the same...
    Anyway I'm not a big fan and it seems they do all they can to kick me out.
  • Sure it may be allowed via the Facebook usage policy, but in terms of scientific research this is completely unethical. This is the reason why universities have Institutional Review Boards to regulate how research is done. This doesn't mean deception isn't allowed in research, but a major component of research is that human subjects are aware they are part of some type of research study. Posted via Android Central App
  • You already signed the agreement form when you signed up for Facebook. Posted via Android Central App
  • +1 Posted via Android Central App
  • Yea, until one lucky kid commits suicide after seeing a ton of miserable posts from all of his friends, making him suicidal. Go Facebook. Artnoc is absolutely right - a study on the question of what causes misery based on social evidence with a goal of producing said misery (without the person's knowledge) is absolutely unethical.
  • If some kid commits suicide because he sees a bunch of posts about some girl getting broken up with by her boyfriend, and someone else having a bad day at work, and someone else's grandma passing away, etc...
    Then that kid had way more wrong with them than seeing some Facebook post.
    I mean are you serious right now? Really?
    These are the same kids that go 'kill a bunch of people because they played Grand Theft Auto'
  • Dear Ryan, Sorry to inform you that parents were involved in a traffic accident and are dead.
    Your Friends @gmail.com. Six months later… Hey Ryan, thanks for participating in our research project. In accordance with our TOS, we have taken the liberty of adding everyone you sent an e-mail, text or called on your phone to your circles in Google+. Have a great day.
  • Yes, but I feel that this is the cop out response... how many people actually read that? I'd say much less than .001% of users, and while it's no excuse to not have read it and then later complain about the company's practices, reading stories like this really highlight the dangers that could exist with services like this. I feel like companies like Facebook et al. need to be more upfront and expository when it comes to obvious gray areas like this. As much as it is the user's responsibility to know what terms they agree to when they use a service, it is also the responsibility of a company to be just a little bit more transparent with their users.
  • I do believe that user knowledge in this type of experiment would have corrupted the results.
  • Precisely.
  • That is why in most studies of this type they tell the subjects they are studying something else. Some deception is allowed, but it is unethical to perform this type of study without proper consent, and burying it in the T&Cs doesn't count. Posted via Android Central App
  • Yes.
  • Eh.... Eh... I'm not paying for the service out of my pocket and no personal data was used. The news feed is always based on algorithms, this is just another one of those. Posted via Android Central App
  • precisely. a social experiment that was totally harmless and actually came up with some interesting data. i think it was actually a smart idea.
  • I wouldn't say manipulating people's emotions is totally harmless. Posted via Android Central App
  • Basically showing a few more negative posts than positive ones? Or a few more positive than negative? This is something that happens every day by pure coincidence in Top Stories. If you read one of my posts above we're literally talking about more posts about a breakup, or a bad day at work, etc. OR more posts about the weather being nice outside, or watching a cool TV show, or taking a quality BM.
    To call this emotional manipulation is a bit of a stretch wouldn't you say?
  • It's not a stretch at all. They admitted to modifying peoples' behavior. That isn't acceptable.
  • "To call this emotional manipulation is a bit of a stretch wouldn't you say?" ABSOLUTELY!
  • Just wait... after this news, some schmoe is going to make a big stink about how FB put them in a heightened state of depression resulting in their doing something really stupid.
  • exactly what i was thinking. some family member is going to sue because their son/daughter/mother/father/whatever commited suicide around this same point in time. i hate stupid people.
  • I want to sue FB just because I can. If a company can sue for rectangular phones with rounded corners, I can sue FB for being a fucked up piece of software. Then sue all the idiots that coded the software individually.
  • Deleted my account in 2011. Posted via Android Central App
  • Thanks for sharing, it really means a lot to all of us.
  • Sounds like you're envious... Posted via Android Central App
  • Or i truly just... wait for it... dont care!
  • You don't care? Then stop....wait for it....reading and posting in this thread.
  • You're special. Posted via Android Central App using an LG G2.
  • Who cares. Stop bitchin...Don't like it don't use it
  • Well it's not like we had the choice to decline anyway. It's kind of like a condition that we must agree to if we wanted to sign up.
  • You had the choice to decline when you signed up.
  • There is no option, afaik, to decline the research without also declining EVERYTHING else and just not using the service. Imo, based on info from a Social Psychology class I took, that alone makes this experiment unethical. There needs to be a clear opt-out mechanism that can be invoked at any point. Also, imo, no one understood that clause in the T&C to mean conducting social psychology experiments. Tweaking algorithms to improve service, yes, but not actual manipulating emotions and behavior experiments. Posted via Android Central App
  • Kind of like how religions infect societies then.. Nothing we didnt already know.
  • Says yo mama ... X-9 = 2B^3
  • What is this Book of Faces of which you speak?
  • I'm going to repeat what I said at imore: is that even legal? Posted via Android Central App
  • It's like sex. If you consent to it, it's not rape. However, I wonder if they ran this experiment on anyone who was legally not capable of consent.
  • comparing a social experiment that had little to zero effect on users to rape/sex. very mature.
  • Sure it's tasteless and I would have chosen something else but it got the point across very easily. That'll be $15.20 plus tip.
  • If you look at it in context instead of throwing a tantrum, you'd see that I wasn't comparing rape to a social experiment. Even an idiot, other than yourself, could see that. The topic was LEGALITY, not SIMILARITY. The most effective means to illustrate an idea to a broad audience is to do so in a fashion that is readily understood. Consent in sexual encounters is a legal issue that is readily understood by a wide audience. Now, stop finding reasons to make yourself a nuisance, and go read a book on logical fallacies or something.
  • If you look at it in context instead of throwing a tantrum, you'd see that I wasn't comparing rape to a social experiment. Even an idiot, other than yourself, could see that. The topic was LEGALITY, not SIMILARITY. The most effective means to illustrate an idea to a broad audience is to do so in a fashion that is readily understood. Consent in sexual encounters is a legal issue that is readily understood by a wide audience. Now, stop finding reasons to make yourself a nuisance, and go read a book on logical fallacies or something.
  • Id rather watch you cry some more.
  • Go away moron, seriously you aren't welcome here.
    And if anyone's crying it's you. Child.
    Posted via Android Central App
  • Sounds as if you're a FB lover. Go cuddle up to Zuckerburg and shut it.
  • I don't think it's possible since they only have access to the information we give them. Posted via Android Central App
  • +1 Posted via Android Central App
  • I participate in this kind of experiment constantly. It's called advertising.
  • You are the product they are selling.......
  • This is exactly why I don't use Facebook. Posted via Android Central App
  • for a bunch of tech-savvy, well-read, intelligent people... many of you should just go hide in your basements with tin-foil wrapped around your head with zero access to technology... if these things you complain about really bother you as much as you make it seem.
  • I agree, if you agree to it, it's your own goddamn fault that you didn't read it. There are sites around that explain these in English instead of legalese too That'll be $15.20 plus tip.
  • Is there an opt-out button? No so shut up. Do people have to use Facebook? For the most part yes. Posted via Android Central App
  • I think it's pretty awesome actually. I mean, you give them that info.. if this is gonna piss you off, don't give it to them. I only gave them info I don't mind them having. And I love experiments like this. Plus this gives some explanation as to the seemingly random way the site decides to display things on your stream/wall/etc. (I always wondered how it chose that stuff.) I'll be looking into this further, very interesting.
  • Actually this doesn't even matter I mean WHO USES THE TOP RATED sorting function? I only use Most Recent therefore this study doesn't say anything.
  • I've been having to use Facebook only on my phone lately and they made it so you CAN'T get to Most Recent anymore. At least, I don't see how. Frustrates me to read a post, reply to it, then see that it was from four days ago and a more recent post negates the need to comment. Posted via Android Central App
  • That was just hype, Most Recent is under the More tab. God I hate it when people say it isn't there. If you would just LQQK, its there!
  • Most recent reverts every 3 hours for me on mobile and desktop. Posted via Android Central App
  • If Facebook is so shady, why do we even promote or advertise or write about the new features and updates to/from that company. It gets praised then it shows its true colors and so on n so on. I know it's our choice to use it or not but it's confusing to read this then read a month from now the awesome update it just had.
  • Because everyone goes there, it's impossible to organise a bulk migration. Posted via Android Central App
  • If they Could they access mine and start removing all political and religious posts.
    That would be greeeaaat.
    This power can be used for good. Posted via Android Central App
  • +1 Posted via Android Central App
  • But then you'd only see posts about the weather...
  • Am I the only one who's bothered by the false conclusion? This does not prove that Facebook influences emotions, only that it can influence which emotions are shared. The link between what people feel most of the time and what they share on a specific social media site is unproven. Posted via Android Central App
  • This whole study seems very unscientific and wouldn't even be acceptable at high school level. Posted via Android Central App
  • +1 Posted via Android Central App
  • Fucking with peoples minds as always. Winner of the OnePlus Storm of Invites contest thingy... °Sony XPERIA Z2 white
    °LG Optimus G Pro white
    °LG Optimus L70 black
  • Yes because the machines can tell whether it's a negative or positive comment. Give me a break. People are reading the posts. Posted via Ash William's Boomstick
  • Just like search engine optimization has people go read every individual website and decide what to make more relevant.
    /s its called keywords.
  • Hahahahahahaha!!!! Idiots on facebook
  • If you are using Facebook then you should not have any reasonable expectation of privacy. There is only one way for them to continue to grow, use your precious data that you post every five seconds. Posted via Android Central App
  • I'm sorry but Facebook was nothing but a psychological experiment to begin with. How are you going to criticize a website who's primary purpose was to instill rage and conflict to begin with. Read the terms and the contract when you sign up. Facebook will randomize the data to protect personal interest but in the end result they want usable personal information to make broad assumptions in order to influence the users. It's a common practice in all walks of business.
  • I'm not surprised in the slightest but I really think people should choose another social network. I like Google Plus and would use it so much more if everyone was on there, but they are not. And Google Plus isn't the only other network I know, it was just an example. I don't know what will get people to switch from Facebook but I would love something to.
  • I swear I'm about to delete my FB! They're really starting to creep me out! Posted via Android Central App
  • This doesn't really bother nor surprise me much. This is an ad company after all. What doesn't sit well is the fact that the test contributed to negative feelings. If one was already an over emotional person it conceivably could have made it worse. It's kind of intrusive in that manner. When you signup for a research project at say a University you can at least mentally prepare although theytoo often have to mislead subjects to get pure results.
  • Well this is what happens when u don't read the fine print.. If we all have read this, then we would've seen it coming but since we don't want to, then Facebook slides in shit like this and we don't realize because we want to use Facebook trusting that things like this wouldn't happen. But the public being stupid shows that we don't realize what happens until it happens. So If you're mad then be mad at yourself for not seeing this coming.. Posted via Android Central App
  • Again, reading the fine print does not let you opt out, nor does it change what the fine print says. Posted via Android Central App
  • I want a refund! :)
  • I've been trying to turn off "top stories" for bloody ages, maybe this is why it kept reverting. I don't want top stories, I want most recent, all most recent, yes this is immoral, but the fact that it doesn't surprise me just supports my decision to move to G+....well actually i just use nothing now. Posted via Android Central App
  • The applicable concept here is Informed Consent in ethical research which arose from the Nuremberg Trials. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuremberg_Code
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Informed_consent Basically, it says that test subjects must be aware THAT they are part of an experiment and they are fully aware of possible consequences. In this latest Facebook fiasco, it seems to me that the issue is whether a small clause buried deep in the TOS sufficiently constitutes informed consent - whether one that is broadly implicit is sufficient for any experiment at any time without awareness or whether that merely enlists a user as being a candidate but a further step is required for each and every time. For example, some people may be receptive to being test subjects in general but have objections being involved in certain types of experiments. Therefore, Facebook failed the ethics part of human research in 2 ways: (a) that subjects should be aware they are in an experiment and (b) aware of the nature of the experiment. Both types of awareness do not invalidate results because subjects are randomized to study or control groups.
  • +20 I made a similar point, though much less well-made, above. Posted via Android Central App
  • +1 everyone should read your comment Posted via Android Central App
  • Are you saying that FB personnel are practicing Nazi tactics?
    I would tend to agree. Posted via Android Central App
  • As soon as they introduced the "Top Stories" option and then made it the default view I knew something like this was gonna happen. Posted via Android Central App
  • There are 3 types of people who won't fight this behavior from large companies. 1. The uninformed who believe this will not set a precedent.
    2. The stupid.
    3. The lazy.
    If you have no issues with Facebook doing this, then ask yourself which of these 3 are you? If you don't know it's probably 2. Posted via Android Central App
  • Wow, they had to study 600,000 people to figure out that positive thought encouraged positive thought and negative thought encourages negative thought?
    I was under the impression that everyone knew that, already. Posted via Android Central App
  • Love the people who comment: "got rid of Facebook 'x' years ago." or "this is why I don't have a Facebook account anymore!" ya sure.
    I think you got rid of your account because you've received one too many drama-fests. Posted via Android Central App
  • This does upset me. I know a lot of people here aren't fans of facebook but I use it to keep in touch with friends far and near. A small group I'm in keeps a running chat/message going about whatever is going on. If you have teens that are on, its important to be on to keep track of them. If I dropped off there wouldn't be a replacement way for these things because these people aren't getting off facebook. That said, I don't think they should deliberately skew someones feed negative. Mental health issues are real and many people are struggling. Heck just the day to day can be difficult to deal with for so called "healthy" people. It isn't ethical to deliberately expose people to negative things without them realizing they are part of an experiment. You don't know how that will effect someone. I know many come to facebook to seek support when going through a rough time, it shouldn't be trying to deliberately bring them down.
  • Is it the cool thing to hate Facebook now a days? Is that the edgy too cool for school thing to do? Anyways. I could care less I have nothing to hide. Nor do I care if my patterns or whatever are used. Posted via Android Central App
  • I started using the internet back in 1994?(maybe earlier?) As of today, I have NEVER answered anything truthfully on the internet. If anyone is conducting psychological experiment or tracking me based on what I put out there, they will probably assume the following about me: (1) hate Dutch-Irish politicians who reside in Lithuania
    (2) prefer to date Norwegian women between 37 and 42 who have blue eyes and red hair
    (3) drink two glasses of red wine and 4 shots of Vodka daily
    (4) hate dogs but love chickens
    (5) bald (up and down)
    (6) have 4 wives
    (7) have 11 children
    (8) have no children
    (9) eat steak twice a day
    (10) subscribe to satellite TV
    (11) do not own a TV at home
    (12) use a Linux computer at work
    (13) drive an old Opel Astra right-hand-drive(not possible in the US)
    (14) support the Republican party and donate $1000 to them yearly
    (15) graduated high school in 1927
    (16) born on December 25
    (17) converted Jew
    (18) devout Catholic nun
    (19) vegetarian
    (20) watches 18 hours of TV per day
    (21) etc... etc...etc... I keep a long list like that and I answer all internet questions accordingly.
  • A few facts: 1) If you have a FB then you are subjected to negative and positive feed all day everyday...regardless of who posted/manipulated it. How is this any different? 2) I do believe in the user agreements..as is about 99.8% of user agreements..there is a clause in similar terms that they can use, and pretty much abuse, anything they want. Don't like it?...don't use it! 3) How many users did they last estimate using FB? I believe it was suggested that more than 1.11 BILLLION people use the site. Who in the hell is going to know whether or not it was THEIR feed being manipulated?! Which leads me to 4) not only am I almost certain their user clause states something to protect them legally, but noone will have unprecidented proof that they were in fact victims of this "psychological study" that has absolutely no validity to it as, like previously mentioned, it's common knowledge that negative thoughts lead to negativity and positive thoughts lead to positivity. Ever heard the term "smiles are contagious" or "positive thinking leads to positive outcome"? Same consept. 5) I'm also almost certain that when signing up for FB it states/asks if you are 18 years or older. Now this may have changed since I started utilizing the site, but I do recall this being a requirement in order to obtain a page, thus eliminating "children" from this specific scenario. And obviously it is quite hard to determine whether or not someone is in fact a particular ago or older...hey, kids lie! That is why children have parents; to monitor their activity to prevent them from utilizing what they are not yet "legally" allowed to use; and I use that term loosely. With that said...get over it people! You're creating a ruckus over something that more than likely you weren't affected by. This is exactly what they want!