You may have been part of a secret Facebook experiment


by Cassidy Quinn, KGW Staff

Posted on July 1, 2014 at 10:23 AM

Updated Tuesday, Jul 1 at 10:36 AM

Facebook is for sharing, but how would you feel if your Facebook account was a test subject in an online study?

Some users are unsettled after the company manipulated nearly 700,000 of users feeds' as part of a psychological experiment.

Data scientists have published a paper describing an experiment they conducted back in January 2012, involving the Facebook News Feeds of nearly 689,003 random Facebook users. Specifically, the researchers messed with the amount of positive and negative posts that showed up in these users' feeds for a week. Then they kept track of the users' reactions.

So what did they find out?

"Emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness."

That means that when you see your friend post a negative status update, there's a chance you'll start to feel more sad yourself. And the opposite happens with happy posts.

Naturally, the release of this study caused some negative reactions from a lot of Facebook users who thought their privacy had been violated. But Facebook says it does fall within the company's privacy policy (you know, the one hardly anyone actually reads).

But while it is in the policy now, Forbes points out that the clause allowing for user information to be used in "research" wasn't actually included until May 2012 - four months after the study concluded.

So maybe we're allowed to be a little bit mad. Luckily, in the study, the authors say no user data containing personal information was actually seen by the researchers.

But the experiment's lead scientist, Adam Kramer, still felt inclined to post an apology on his own Facebook page on Sunday, giving an explanation for the study.

"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." said Kramer. "In hindsight, the research benefits of the paper may not have justified all of this anxiety."

If you are feeling a lot of anxiety about this whole debacle, don't go posting about it on Facebook - you don't want to inspire your friends to feel anxious too, as the study said may happen.