As we’ve all experienced, Facebook is known for playing with our emotions. Changing the layout of our profiles, adding and taking away company Page features and making us suffer by removing the option to send gifts to friends.
In June, Facebook released a paper explaining that it had manipulated the newsfeeds of nearly 700,000 members without their knowledge or consent. Yes, you could have been one of many that were targeted.
Researchers investigated the emotional contagion, or the idea that the happiness or sadness shown by our friends’ posts might influence our own posts. Facebook showed certain people more positive status updates and certain people sadder ones, and took note of how that changed the way the test subjects described their lives on Facebook.
Facebook admitting to the oopsy with the emotions study, explaining “We were unprepared for the reaction the paper received when it was published and have taken to heart the comments and criticism. It is clear now that there are things we should have done differently. For example, we should have considered other non-experimental ways to do this research. The research would also have benefited from more extensive review by a wider and more senior group of people. Last, in releasing the study, we failed to communicate clearly why and how we did it.”
Facebook never disclosed the experiment to individuals affected and it has been seen as a violation of the trust they had placed in the social network.
But, after all the toying, Facebook message is: Trust us, we promise to do better.
Here’s a look at Facebook’s new way of doing research that covers both internal work and research that might be published:
- Guidelines: we’ve given researchers clearer guidelines. If proposed work is focused on studying particular groups or populations (such as people of a certain age) or if it relates to content that may be considered deeply personal (such as emotions) it will go through an enhanced review process before research can begin. The guidelines also require further review if the work involves a collaboration with someone in the academic community.
- Review: we’ve created a panel including our most senior subject-area researchers, along with people from our engineering, research, legal, privacy and policy teams, that will review projects falling within these guidelines. This is in addition to our existing privacy cross-functional review for products and research.
- Training: we’ve incorporated education on our research practices into Facebook’s six-week training program, called bootcamp, that new engineers go through, as well as training for others doing research. We’ll also include a section on research in the annual privacy and security training that is required of everyone at Facebook.
- Research website: our published academic research is now available at a single location and will be updated regularly.
What do you say to Facebook knowing that it has admitted to try to influence your emotions? Share your thoughts in the comments.