Details have just emerged of how Facebook carried out an experiment that intentionally manipulated the emotions of some 700,000 of its users in January of 2012. By altering users’ newsfeed content according to emotional markers–some were given more negative news stories while others received more upbeat current events–Facebook determined “that people with less positivity in their Feeds began showing more negativity, and vice versa.” Meanwhile, users fed news stories with less emotional but more factual content grew quieter, posting fewer status updates.
What’s the Big Idea?
While an earlier experiment conducted by Facebook observed how the emotional content of status updates is “contagious” in patterns that resemble a spreading virus, the company’s latest actions reveal how it purposefully changed what its users saw and read. How is this legal, you ask? The lengthy users’ agreement signed (abruptly) when an individual creates an account constitutes informed consent, even though the agreement is far too long for the casual reader and important details are couched in legal jargon. Shockingly, Forbes reports that the user agreement was changed four months after the experiment was conducted in an attempt to legalize the company’s behavior.