Facebook apologizes for psychological experiment; explains new research guidelines

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Facebook is sorry for tampering with your emotions.

Well, kind of sorry.

Mike Schroepfer, Facebook’s chief technology officer, said in a blog post Thursday that the company was “unprepared for the reaction” to an “emotional contagion” study on Facebook, and he acknowledged that changes must be made.

In the post, he wrote:

It is clear now that there are things we should have done differently. For example, we should have considered other non-experimental ways to do this research. The research would also have benefited from more extensive review by a wider and more senior group of people. Last, in releasing the study, we failed to communicate clearly why and how we did it.

The research findings were from a 2012 experiment involving researchers adjusting Facebook’s algorithms for almost 700,000 users. The newsfeed tweaks showed users a high number of positive posts or negative posts, and the week-long experiment found the users’ moods were affected by the status updates, as they wrote more positive or negative posts based upon what they had been shown.

The results were met with backlash as users thought the experiment was manipulative, creepy, and unsettling.

It spurred the Electronic Privacy Information Center to file a complaint against Facebook with the Federal Trade Commission, even though Facebook users gave implicit consent for Facebook to tamper with their newsfeeds when they agreed to the site’s terms of service.

Though it’s clear Facebook will still conduct experiments, Schroepfer said the company has new research guidelines, a panel for review of research projects, new training, and a clearinghouse website for research information.

Ultimately, Schroepfer’s words are similar to those of Adam Kramer, the Facebook data scientist who wrote the study:

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.

Sorry, not sorry.

What they really mean is “In future we won’t publish the results of the experiments we do on you” http://t.co/tGykgU9BAp

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