Facebook has published a report showing that it played with data from 689,003 out of its 1.3 billion users in 2012. After it reported its findings, it was accused of emotionally manipulating its users.
The experiment, published in a paper in the March issue of Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, inserted emotionally skewed posts in to people’s news feeds, without their knowledge. This was to test what effect that had on the statuses or "likes" that they then posted or reacted to.
“We take privacy and security at Facebook really seriously" ~ Sheryl Sandberg, COO Facebook
The study by the Facebook team tested emotions of users. It ran these tests for a week in January 2012.
It wanted to see whether posts with more emotional content were more engaging.
It showed a selection of users different emotional varieties of posts in their feeds. Some users received posts with positive sentiments.
Other users received posts with more negative emotions. Facebook wanted to see if this altered people’s Facebook behaviour and emotions.
The researchers wanted to test whether "emotional contagion" occurs outside of in-person interaction between individuals by reducing the amount of emotional content in the News Feed.
Interestingly enough, the experiment seems to work. People who saw positive posts tended to write in a more positive way, people that saw negative posts did not.
The study found that when positive expressions were reduced in people’s feeds, people produced fewer positive posts and more negative posts. However when negative expressions were reduced, users posted more positive posts.
Facebook has been accused of manipulating emotions. Well, get over it Facebook users. If you are a Facebook user, you willingly give Facebook every bit of data it has about you.
Facebook’s data tests are not new. Facebook regularly manipulates what you see. It changes its hugely complex algorithm to show you less posts from people you don’t interact with often.
You see less posts from brands that have huge numbers of followers, you see different types of ads in your sidebar.
Facebook has been doing this for years.
It says it does this to give you a better experience on Facebook. These "experiments" on your emotions allow it to gauge how to best present you with the information you want.