For one week in 2012, hundreds of thousands of Facebook users were unknowingly subjected to an experiment in which their news feed was altered to see whether certain kinds of content made users happy or sad.
The research that resulted from that experiment, which was published in an academic journal this month, said emotions appeared to be contagious: If users saw happier posts from friends in their Facebook news feed, they were more likely to post their own happy updates. Sad updates appeared to have a comparable effect.
One of the Facebook employees who performed the experiment, Adam DI Kramer, wrote a Facebook post in response to the resulting furor:
And at the end of the day, the actual impact on people in the experiment was the minimal amount to statistically detect it — the result was that people produced an average of one fewer emotional word, per thousand words, over the following week.
The goal of all of our research at Facebook is to learn how to provide a better service. Having written and designed this experiment myself, I can tell you that our goal was never to upset anyone. 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.
Some people are saying they're fed up with Facebook's ongoing creepiness problem. Some people are surprised that everyone is surprised. Most people seem not to care. What does Slog think?