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


Reader comments

Facebook ran secret psychological experiments on users



Nothing new...someday Facebook will adjust our lives based on these data analysts....and what they feel is right...bunch of idiots...

Well questioned. Well I live because I don't want to make my parents hurt; and when they passed away, I shall finish this nonsense.

You can't believe that I use a widely popular social platform to stay in touch with my family who lives 1200 miles away?

My guess is that most of the Facebook privacy slammers user Google or Android every day... never realizing what information they are giving.

So stupid article written by a totally ignorant author... If you are one of those 600.000, that doesn't harms you at all, you should only be proud to have helped the science... They don't care about the single person, it's irrelevant. There are companies much worse in terms of privacy (Google first of all)

Ethics are terrible. If we all just became realistic about humanity's goals, we could reduce war and segregation while increasing development and science.

Ethics ARE important. I agree too much ethics can be bad, but that's like everything. Everything has to have a middle ground. Ethics seperates us from animals. But too much ethics makes us impratical and frankly dumb. So, find a middle ground

Your comment is illogical for two reasons. The first is that we are animals, and the second is that animals (especially higher mammals) have ethics. Killer Wales, dolphins and apes all act by a set of rules in their own societies.

"too much ethics can be bad"

"too much ethics makes us impratical and frankly dumb"

care to back any of this horseshit up?

So when it is "practical" to steal, rape, murder, oppress, enslave, ethically cleanse, commit genocide etc. etc. then one should not be ethical and refrain from doing so?   Because that would be stupid?

Or are you talking about your privilege to pollute and ensure that your profit margin is not affected by the "need" to limit pollution or clean up what you've done?   That's impractical and stupid?

And they call this civilization?  

Lol. You guys went too far, this is about facebook not about humans vs animals ethics.
I love it when people go too far off topic. It makes me think how we all ended up right here in 2014. That's 2014 years.
Anyways, have fun.

The question about ethics in "animals vs humans" is actually an interesting one but a sideline of a very important question about ethics as dumb or inpractical.   The overall question about Facebook's experiment has ethical implications and is not off topic.

It's unclear what your statement about 2014 is all about.   If you are pointing out the time elapsed Anno Domini as if ethics is some sort of anachronistic concept in today's world you couldn't be more wrong.

No sir I didn't mean what you understood. I actually agree with you. Ethics are very important and is never dumb nor impractical. We all follow our own codes of conduct. In fact without ethics humanity wouldn't have made it this far. We would have vanished ages ago.
But I was just pointing out how this comment stream started up as "that is an ethical violation", and got to the ethics of animals.

I think there are some banking and financial organisations that need someone with your views. And your right Jamie Dimon didn't make it by being erhical did he?

"ethics are terrible"

WTF!!   guidelines for appropriate behavior are terrible??  

"If we all just became realistic about humanity's goals"   By implication to be ethical is to be unrealistic. 

That's a very realpolitik position and likely Machievellian as well.

They should've at least been openly asked about participating in a study without specifying what kind of study it was.

The problem is, you agree to participate in any study they choose to perform when you sign up, evidently. Whether that is a good thing for them to do it or not is another question.

They know that it's not the same thing when you're explicitly asked and when it's hidden hundreds of pages of terms of service.
We already know how sneaky FB is but scientists behavior is unacceptable.

Edit: Well, looks like one of them works for FB so, nvm.

So the facebook app for windows phone is one huge psychological experiment how people react when they can't see half of newsfeed.

The news feed in Facebook WP app, isn't the real feed, Microsoft just put the latest posts by friends and pictures, sorted by date.

Who gives a shit about design when there is no content. Therefore I use JDB for Facebook where I see everything with shitty design.

Yup. One of the slowest and most useless apps in the marketplace. This explains a lot. They obviously wants me to kill my phone.

I don't know what to think about these "missing half my feed" posts. I'm not missing anything... bounce back and forth all the time and it has the same content... not always in the same order. But I probably only have 25 friends, so there's not as much content to choose from.

That's why I binned it off. It's just one big controlled experiment, aimed at targeting ads. Plus photos of food and babies and self-congratulatory check-ins.

Sounds like you needed new friends. :) I have all sorts of interesting conversations with people I've met from all over the world. Yeah, some people discuss their kids, but that's what's important to them.

I don't really see why I should care if some computer anonymously studies my posts. Everything is a tradeoff... Facebook provides a valuable service for "free", and we provide advertising targets and data. You're certainly welcome to not find the tradeoff worth it, bit that doesn't mean that everyone has the same concerns as you. I would think this data collection would be a lot less concerning than Facebook having your full history of locations, pictures, and opinions... why is this anonymous data so alarming?

I don't use Facebook ... Last thing I need is to be a Facebook GenuPig ... Unless they gonna pay me hard cold cash lol ... Gotta get that Cadillac. ;)

Uh... It's called A/B testing and every web app company does it. Facebook has hundreds of these experiments all the time.

Yeah, I don't understand why this is alarming. Facebook has much more detailed, non-anonymous data that we freely give them every day...

wow i think i was one of them... not mad at all they didn't do anything wrong they actually intend to make users experience better so that works for me :p

It isn't unethical to conduct a study that every participant consented to. It would be their fault for not reading the TOS

There are a lot of people doing a lot of evil things in this world... I fail to see how this is one of them.

I actually find it interesting and I,m really into reading the whole study we all know that people are emotionally effected by others but to think social networking reflects so much on our personal emotional state is scary

Facebook is only a social networking program. If you use it constantly on a daily basis, and it becomes an integral part of your existence, then you deserve everything that FB does to you. I have no sympathy!! Freewill people!!!!

Eh, a company with those many users, so many social experiments that could be made. *shrugs* Like I care. It's now mainly used for the occasional rant, Messenger, and signing into my Spotify.

I think it's a great way to run research that will improve our understanding of society. As long as my personal information isn't compromised, of course.

I was already disgruntled and pissed off at the world after being in the army and wounded in combat. Being screwed as a mailman for the USPS just added to the pile of shit. Facebook had nothing to do with that, or does it? Fuck, what if its making my PTSD even worse? I'm suing those rat bastards.

Why are people so mad? I find it amazing that people get so mad about this stuff. You can use Facebook and not share many details about your life but a lot of people choose to do so. If you're putting that much information about yourself out there on the internet, do you really expect all this to stay private and used by these for profit companies?

1.2 billion people signed up for Facebook. Without reading terms and policy conditions. Including me. What's the big fuss?

Somewhere in the United States, a Class Action lawsuit is being prepared in the behalf of the families of teenagers who committed suicide after S prolonged period of increased feelings of social isolation and cyber bullying via all those negative comments of their Facebook account.

I could sue these people given the reason that our performance highly depends on our mood. There are numerous studies on this....and I'm just going to take my final exams...so...yea...@#£%

People agree regularly to give there privacy away. Facebook is free. Which means they can use us for money. I don't post anything, just read. Most people post every detail of their life, then ask, how do you know?

I dont get the point of social networks anyway since most people instantly reply anyway better off using an im service one of the ones not on the governments radar ie icq

So when you have an event or something in your life happen you im every friend you know? The point is it make it easy to broadcast things people might find interesting... you don't have to specifically target things. You put them out there, and people who care can keep up with what's happening in your life. Or they can ignore it.

Well...with this kind of bullchit is just another example of why I don't use that type of service.

People who want to post their lives on a social media get what they sign up for if they blindly click their privacy away..

I'd say yes...

oh, if you're talking about dying due to facebook, I'd go with no (but that happens too occasionally).

Hope every facebook user sues them for a billion dollars each. Only way these firms will learn if not they are laughing away

We signed up for it honestly. I'm sure all other services have this because they need to run stats to see what they can do better. In this case it was a science experiment.

The part that gets me being angry or depressed is when someone posts about a news article that is depressing. And the sad part is most news that gets broadcasted is depressing in its self. So if the world wants to change how about putting out more good news? Then more good news will be broadcasted through Facebook and the like. Which in terms with there study will yield happier people. At least imho.

When my daughter was upset by mean people in one of her MMORPGs and lamenting on all the bad things that happen in the world, I gave her an assignment: find 10 stories about people doing good things, kind things. A Bing search on "people doing good" provided a long list of websites devoted to positive stories. She now shares those on her FB feed.

It seems to be human nature that we are quicker to complain than to compliment. Case in point: Yelp. It seems that people are more likely to be energized to post a complaint than when they receive service and products taht meet their expectations.

Months ago, I blogged about this and how much better we feel and can make someone else feel just by saying something positive. Based on FB's research, I wasn't wrong.

Try it. Whether it's the clerk at the market or a coworker, find something complimentary to say!

I use FB as a news aggregator for my interests, not for staying in touch with friends. Works fine for me.

Not news at all.  Sure they conducted experiments on people there.  You don't think people that invested in facebook when it went public don't expect something for the money they invested do you? Its no co-incidence this occurred the same year facebook went public. 2012.

 But I'm not sure how successful they were since a lot of people quit going to facebook and have moved on. Those that spend inordinate amounts of time telling all their personal business to any and everyone simply have no life to speak of anyway. Facebook is a visual representation of what a wasted opportunity and wasted time looks like. In that setting, you could feed bullshit to those types anytime they wish. No different than that cable news comedy show.

Not sure why anybody is surprised that they use their data to learn more about us, or that emotions are contagious. Are either of these things surprising?

It makes sense that FB uses user data to gain further insight into our behavior. This is a free service so we honestly shouldn't be surprised. As long as personally identifiable information is not being disclosed then I love the fact that they are carrying out such experiments. It's called progress, science, research, discovery. BTW, I do not use FB. I prefer to communicate with my real friends via IM, email and the phone. What a nightmare to have former college friends/acquaintances or a person I met on the soccer field try to friend me. No thank you. However I'm more than happy to read about the experiments that FB is conducting on its patients.... meant user base.

If it's in the terms I can't be upset. I was at first but this seems harmless. Luckily I know of so I can be aware that they do these things.

WPC App via Nexus 5.

I'm a student at a big university majoring in Psychology. You can't experiment on people without their consent. Luckily for Facebook they have the consent of everybody that signs up.

Being around negative people makes you negative, GET OUT!!! Jeez, how about a study that everyone doesn't already know.

If any of us read an the actual TOS then maybe we would have the right to complain but none of us really do on any website.

I find this fascinating. Being that social media is a relatively new phenomenon in our culture, I think it is a responsible choice on the part of facebook to put resources toward studying how their product affects the community it so significantly shapes.

Seriously, I do not give a damn about that. In a world where my phone can be tapped and life controlled by others, I do not think this "research" matters anymore.

Well people still use Facebook.personally I didnt find anything useful with Facebook so dectivated my account sometime back.

What ever happened to obtaining informed consent from the party being researched? Dont think this would be approved by the IRB

The conclusion is simple, we will do everything to be liked by others. So we even lie on our wall in this both ways.

To haters: If you think other social networks don't perform similar experiments, think again.

Passive agressive joke: Windows Phone users need not to worry - the app is so outdated that news feed doesn't get filtered in any way (something that doesn't happen for iOS, Android and web since over a couple of years ago). Then again, it's great feedback on how effective filters are for Facebook experience.

To paranoids: Maybe there's a reason after all why Facebook (Beta or not) is still as outdated as it is on WP - they are conducting experiments on us.

To ignorants: you can pretty much shape up what you see and what you don't on Facebook these days. Everyone can joke all they want about unwanted baby pictures and stupid re-posts - I don't get any of them in my news feed despite having tons of friends who do that.

To Facebook: stop giving trolls more reasons to rightfully slam your service.

To social network designers: This is how you add value to your service - but never let users know about it.

I'll be here all week folks!

What a great experiment! Soon the user will be able to set "only positive news" for your feed if you just don't want to have your day ruined or "only negative" if you want to feel better about yourself! Nice technology fb!

I wonder if any suicides were noticed during this experiment, and if so, will Facebook report it?

This just shows how easy it would be for some companies with a political/social bent to manipulate everything you read. That's why I cringe whenever I hear any statement begin with, "I read on facebook..." Like its a reputable news source. Ha!

Please people, don't pretend to be surprised. Hehe. Even our cell phone records and credit card information isn't safe, why would any conclude Facebook would be better when people is precisely what they monetize just like Google?

Don't care about ANY social networks. They're all useless in my opinion. I guess i could see some benefit in fakebook, but why would anyone use instagram or twatter is beyond me... It's like someone took fakebook, split it in half and made twatter and instagram.... so pointless.

I think this comment thread can be used as one of those. Lots of negativity here... Getting mad at something you don't even pay for. I can't brain that. :)

Interesting experiment but again not a surprise. Facebook steals your contacts, pictures(and more) and shares all your data with big brother. To me this report is one example of "ok" use of peoples habits. The government has to love how dumb people are to put their entire life on facebook!!

I quit using Facebook around 2012 cause I was tired of the depressing place it had become... Now I wonder.

It didn't even work right.... Since like ever! My news feed is manipulated by bugs, errors and lags, etc.
So basically it wouldn't make any difference for me, beside the fact that I use it literally like a NEWS feed, not friend feed...


With as influenced as some people are by Facebook all the negative highlighting could actually impact the lives of some in a bad way.