Facebook admits to ‘psychology experiment’ on 700k users

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Man and Facebook. Courtesy: MGNonline.com

(Credit: MGNonline.com)

DENVER — Facebook recently revealed it carried out a week-long experiment on nearly 700,000 users to test the effects of positive and negative posts, according to a paper published by the PNAS journal.

The January 2012 experiment involved 689,003 users of the English version of Facebook. The experiment was designed to determine “whether exposure to emotions led people to change their own posting behaviors,” wrote a team of Facebook scientists.

Actual posts were not affected and could still be viewed from friends’ profiles. The experiment only changed what selected users saw in their own News Feed, which is governed by a Facebook algorithm.

According to the study, there was one track for those receiving positive posts, and another for those who were exposed to more negative content. The results of the experiment indicate that emotion  — whether good or bad — in social media posts seems to be contagious.

(Credit: PNAS)

(Credit: PNAS)

Subjects who saw positive content appeared to be more positive and less negative in their online activity. The reverse was also true — people tested with negative postings became more negative.

“The short version is, Facebook has the ability to make you feel good or bad, just by tweaking what shows up in your news feed,” Forbes reported.

While users may not have been aware they were part of the experiment, this sort of test is allowed under the terms and conditions all Facebook users must agree to. Those conditions include “internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement.”



  • realwriter24

    Just more plannig for future social engineering projects. It is no coincidence Zuck makes regular trips to meet with Owebama. Best buds and all.

  • Donald Berrian

    There is nothing ethical about conducting experiments on other people without their knowledge or consent. Psychologists have gotten in trouble over this periodically for the last 50 years as a result of their habit of lying to people and in some cases causing long term psychological harm as a result of their “experiments”. Facebook should know better than to allow his.

  • James

    Uh, yeah – if the group you in is talking about serious subjects like famine or a death then the tone of the conversation turns more serious or negative rather than light hearted. Facebook needed an alogyrthym to figure this out? Wow.

  • Anonymous

    ya did u you know if you greet someone in the morning with “300 people were brutally murdered” rather than sally sue and jimmy got married great reception that it CHANGES YOUR MOOD!?! SCCIIENCE! SCIENCE HERE GET YA SCIENCE

  • annpirie

    I have always and will continue to object to FB referring to us as “friends.” That is nonsense. I have only joined to be able to blog. I am lucky to know who real friends are and they are not on FB.

  • annpirie

    A real “friend” is a gift you give yourself. I have never been fascinated with FB calling its followers friends. I only signed up to blog.

  • annpirie

    This is the third time I have attempted to making a comment. I merely want to say that I don’t think the word “friend” is appropriate for FB to be using for its followers. A “friend” is a gift you give yourself and is a very special relationship. So, talk about manipulation. It starts right up front.

  • annpirie

    Ooops . . . there all of a sudden are all my comments . . . it took coming back in three times that is why I didn’t think they posted. Sorry!

  • Correen Kennedy-Pulido

    I just wish I didn’t get friends of friends post on my wall. It is annoying, that I see their friends posts over things I actually want to see. I can’t comment or like the post but it shows on my feed. Hmm silly really.

  • Jay Banks

    I guess Facebook was really careful to stick to their terms and conditions in such a potentially sensitive case.

    But the interesting part is how the study creeped people out – it basically was only a little altered form of how FB, Google and other internet companies filter information all the time. It’s just that this time many people suddenly realized what ‘the web’ might be capable of.

    And this is a big plus of this experiment – many were not aware of how the online world works. Until now. So – kudos!

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