News / Science & Technology

Facebook Feed Manipulation Study Draws Ire

FILE - Facebook logo on a computer screen is seen through glasses held by a woman.
FILE - Facebook logo on a computer screen is seen through glasses held by a woman.

Related Articles

Facebook Scores Record 1 Billion Interactions During World Cup

Facebook capitalizes on TV-related fan comments about global football tournament

Iraqis Face Another Major Internet Outage

Analysts say outages are believed to have targeted many of the same regions that recently came under the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant militant group's control

Saudi App Appears to Target Residents With Surveillance

Researchers say corrupted app can even remotely turn on a phone's mic and camera to record the user

Social media giant Facebook says it conducted a study that altered some users’ feeds because the company cares about “the emotional impact of Facebook.” 

There has been widespread criticism of the experiment, which was conducted without users’ knowledge.

For the study, Facebook, along with Cornell University and the University of California at San Francisco, manipulated some users’ feeds – favoring posts that were positive for some users or more negative for others – to see if emotions were contagious online.

Adam Kramer, a Facebook data scientist and co-author of the study, responded to the outcry on his Facebook page.

“The reason we did this research is because we care about the emotional impact of Facebook and the people that use our product,” he wrote. “We felt that it was important to investigate the common worry that seeing friends post positive content leads to people feeling negative or left out. At the same time, we were concerned that exposure to friends' negativity might lead people to avoid visiting Facebook. We didn't clearly state our motivations in the paper.”

According to Kramer, only 1 in 2,500 users, over 689,000 in total, had their feeds manipulated for a period of one week in 2012.

“I can tell you that our goal was never to upset anyone,” he wrote. “I can understand why some people have concerns about it, and my coauthors and I are very sorry for the way the paper described the research and any anxiety it caused. In hindsight, the research benefits of the paper may not have justified all of this anxiety.

Kramer said the study did show that positive stories in a person’s news feed encouraged positivity, while negative stories had the opposite effect.

“People who had positive content experimentally reduced on their Facebook news feed, for one week, used more negative words in their status updates,” said Jeff Hancock, professor of communication at Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and co-director of its Social Media Lab said in a statement. “When news feed negativity was reduced, the opposite pattern occurred: Significantly more positive words were used in peoples’ status updates.”

The findings, according to Hancock, could extend into the real world.

“Online messages influence our experience of emotions, which may affect a variety of offline behaviors,” Hancock said.

The study has been called “psychological manipulation” by some.

“The unwitting participants in the Facebook study were told (seemingly by their friends) for a week either that the world was a dark and cheerless place or that it was a saccharine paradise,” wrote University of Maryland law professor James Grimmelmann in a blog post. ”That’s psychological manipulation, even when it’s carried out automatically.”

University of Texas psychologist Tal Yarkoni disagreed.

“It’s not clear what the notion that Facebook users’ experience is being ‘manipulated’ really even means, because the Facebook news feed is, and has always been, a completely contrived environment,” he wrote on a blog post. “I hope that people who are concerned about Facebook ‘manipulating’ user experience in support of research realize that Facebook is constantly manipulating its users’ experience. In fact, by definition, every single change Facebook makes to the site alters the user experience, since there simply isn’t any experience to be had on Facebook that isn’t entirely constructed by Facebook.”

Patricia Wallace, Senior Director, CTYOnline and Information Technology at Johns Hopkins University, has a different opinion.

“I don’t think people deeply involved consider it a contrived environment,” she said. “They keep in touch with family and friends. Think of unfriending. It’s not trivial.”

The study also raised ethical questions, which, according to the Atlantic, remain unresolved.

Wallace said she thought the study was “unethical.”

“The process for getting [Institutional Review Board] approval is very onerous and goes deeply into what kind of permissions you’re giving people and the risks and benefits of the study,” she told VOA. “The sharing of that information was not done with those people. They never had a chance to agree. Some of them may have been minors.”

She added that people generally understand that companies do studies like this, but that in most cases, they’re not publishing it.

Wallace suggested the study could be pushback against a 2013 study that found Facebook made people depressed.

“People should be up in arms,” she said. “A good thing that’s going to come out of this is that it caught people’s attention. A lot of people are spending hours with this technology, and they don’t know how it’s influencing them.”

 

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video VOA EXCLUSIVE: US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs