The Information Commissioner’s Office, a UK oversight body, is reportedly investigating whether Facebook may have broken any laws when it manipulated users’ emotions in order to make them sadder.
In January 2012, Facebook, along with Cornell University and the University of California, manipulated the news feeds of individual’s using the service in order to measure any emotional response from the users.
The experiment lasted one week and affected approximately 700,000 users. Facebook found that at the end of the experiment users affected by the manipulation did show signs of using negative language in their postings.
Since news of the manipulation has become public, many users have been reacting angrily. In the United States, it has been reported that users have little course for reparation as Facebook’s Terms of Service require that users submit themselves to experimentation.
The experiment has been called “unethical”, “creepy”, and “evil” by online commentators.
A blogger on Forbes.com stated: “Is it okay for Facebook to play mind games with us for science? It’s a cool finding but manipulating unknowing users’ emotional states to get there puts Facebook’s big toe on that creepy line.”
Facebook data scientist and co-author of the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Adam Kramer, posted an explanation for the study in response to the backlash they were facing:
Kramer also noted that users’ reactions to this study has been taken into account and will be used to improve internal practices at the company regarding future studies.
Joshua is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. You can follow him on Twitter @Joshual33.