Facebook conducts massive psychology experiment on 700,000 unaware users, and you may have been a guinea pig

“A group of scientists from Facebook, the University of California, San Francisco, and Cornell University has conducted a study, Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks, on nearly 700,000 unwitting Facebook users,” Kirk McElhearn reports for Kirkville. “This study shows that: ’emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness.'”

“To perform this study, they ‘manipulated the extent to which people were exposed to emotional expressions in their News Feed.’ In other words, Facebook messed with your head. They discovered that: ‘for people who had positive content reduced in their News Feed, a larger percentage of words in people’s status updates were negative and a smaller percentage were positive. When negativity was reduced, the opposite pattern occurred,'” McElhearn reports. “Now there are a lot of issues here, but I think the first is that of consent.”

“I’m very surprised that the institutional review boards of the universities involved accepted a study using participants that were totally unaware that they were being psychologically manipulated,” McElhearn writes. “This is yet another reason to not trust Facebook. I’ve been on the fence about Facebook for a long time; I don’t use it a lot, mainly to keep in touch with people I haven’t seen in ages, or with internet friends. My Macworld colleague Chris Breen wrote, a couple of years ago, about why he left Facebook. He was more concerned about the privacy implications. But now, I’m going to think carefully about leaving Facebook myself.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Facebook is a weird place that’s only getting weirder. From what we can see from personal pages, while most use Facebook simply as way to keep in touch, the most action is generated by about 20% of the users – narcissists who are each obsessed with basically creating a running advertisement for their “life” – a warped, idealized, unreal version of their actual life. Everyone’s always smiling, sailing, sunning, partying… It never rains, nobody ever frowns; it’s scary weird. Facebook is like Seahaven on ecstasy.

That said, we have a Facebook business page that’s basically our newsfeed, if you’re interested. No unnatural ultra-happiness there – just headlines and blurbs. You can stick our headlines in between the narcissists’ ads for their unreal lives in your Facebook News Feed.

Bottom line: We don’t blame psychologists for studying Facebook- it’s very fertile ground – but they shouldn’t be doing it without explicit consent.

Related articles:
Why Apple really values your privacy – unlike Google, Facebook, or Amazon – June 25, 2014
US NSA used Facebook to hack into computers – March 12, 2014
Young users see Facebook as ‘dead and buried’ – December 27, 2013
How to permanently delete your Facebook account – December 16, 2013
Study finds link between number of Facebook friends and ‘socially disruptive’ narcissism – April 10, 2012
Facebook is stupid and for old people – April 10, 2012


    1. Attempting to minimize the snark: Marketing folks are not typically known for their productivity outside of human interaction. When confronted with a mandate to show their productivity, the come up with vacuous projects like changing the name of their committee and so forth. Human manipulation studies like this are all the rage right now and on doubt every marketing organization is going to want to do their own in order to show productivity.

      You will now witness be being verbally murdered by the people I was discussing above. That’s another of their traits.

      I personally prefer ‘marketing mavens’ who are a blessing to others and are appalled by the concept of manipulating others or retaliating for folks like me tearing off the masks of marketing morons.

  1. I’m on FB as a creative outlet, and have met people I now interact with more than family. There are many who are truly narcissistic and bore me to death with their kids, grand-children, recipes, memes…. There is no one FB experience as there is no one MDN experience. They whine on FB and Twitter, too. Twitter and Pinterest truly are bizarre to me, and I avoid them.

  2. For years scientists with Microsoft’s help has been conducting a massive psychological experiment on hundreds of millions of PC users to answer the question:

    “How much pain and degradation can people tolerate for the illusion of CHEAP?”

    latest insider news is that Google has taken over the experiment with Android….

  3. I’m pretty sure experimenting on people without their knowledge is illegal in most advanced countries. It’s certainly unethical and amoral and should stand condemned.

    This sort of devious manipulation could push a deeply depressed person over the edge.

    So once again we have scientists and a corporation more concerned with whether or not they could, without thinking about whether or not they should.

    1. You are right, but hey Facebook is an Amudercan company and certainly any country that goes about running illegal murders, even though they call it war and torture people, holding them for years without charges being heard is certainly not an advanced country, more like a wannabe terrorist state. It’s no surprise that such an unethical experiment was conducted there.

    2. According to the American Psychological Association’s Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct, these scientists and their sponsoring organizations are in violation of their professional ethical code:

      “3.10 Informed Consent
      (a) When psychologists conduct research or provide assessment, therapy, counseling or consulting services in person or via electronic transmission or other forms of communication, they obtain the informed consent of the individual or individuals using language that is reasonably understandable to that person or persons except when conducting such activities without consent is mandated by law or governmental regulation or as otherwise provided in this Ethics Code. (See also Standards 8.02, Informed Consent to Research; 9.03, Informed Consent in Assessments; and 10.01, Informed Consent to Therapy.)”

      “8.02 Informed Consent to Research
      (a) When obtaining informed consent as required in Standard 3.10, Informed Consent, psychologists inform participants about (1) the purpose of the research, expected duration and procedures; (2) their right to decline to participate and to withdraw from the research once participation has begun; (3) the foreseeable consequences of declining or withdrawing; (4) reasonably foreseeable factors that may be expected to influence their willingness to participate such as potential risks, discomfort or adverse effects; (5) any prospective research benefits; (6) limits of confidentiality; (7) incentives for participation; and (8) whom to contact for questions about the research and research participants’ rights. They provide opportunity for the prospective participants to ask questions and receive answers. (See also Standards 8.03, Informed Consent for Recording Voices and Images in Research; 8.05, Dispensing with Informed Consent for Research; and 8.07, Deception in Research.)”

    3. It isn’t illegal, but it does have very strict conduct standards. That’s why the article used the word “consent” … and I’d very much like to read the Universities’ IRBs on that topic – particularly when the article describes something known as “interventions” (in fact, two interventions). The icing on the cake is if they also messed around with users under age 18 (minors): they’re a vulnerable population which invokes additional IRB constraints.

      1. That last bit might be the one that sinks them. Academic policy committees have a built-in time lag (added to the usual IQ averaging), which can result in incomprehensible decisions, especially about exploding new technologies like social networking. Universities have been severely sanctioned for much less, and the accreditation agencies need to drop the hammer, fast.

        1. It may be worse than that. Two of my acquaintances on Facebook committed suicide within the last 12 months. I’d hate to think they were pushed over the edge by something like this.

          1. Well I know, and I had deathreats made against me. It’s genius in a sick way, the battle of the mind. Open your eyes, it was cyber warfare, you control the mind you can control the world. It’s extremely effective, I went to the edge and almost went over. Was this conducted on children to?

        2. “…That last bit {vulnerable populations} might be the one that sinks them…”

          True, although I see the rest as sufficiently gregious that it *should* be merely yet another nail in their coffin.

          I understand that FB has a vague ‘research’ clause in their User Agreement, and since they’re not held to the Common Rule, they’ll probably avoid the worst lawsuits. However, from an ethics perspective, FB has already failed. However, Cornel et al _are_ subject to the Common Rule and superficially, it does not appear good at all.

      2. I will say this, when I conducted research involving random participants for two of my research papers for my psychology degree, part of the ethical requirements were notification to the participants that they could drop out at any time, and that they could obtain counseling free of charge through the university if the surveys I presented them brought up any disturbing thoughts or feelings. This was important, because one of my papers concerned fear of violence and TV news viewing, and one of the items controlled for was each participant’s history of violent crime victimization. Answering the questions on that survey was expected to bring issues to the surface that had perhaps lain dormant for a long time.

        I don’t understand how these yahoos got around ethical requirements for the humane treatment of participants and the basic requirements for participants giving informed consent to participate.

        1. And BTW, I found a significant positive correlation between general fear of violence and TV news viewing. Oddly, reading newspapers correlated negatively with fear of violence. My analysis is that TV sound bites make violent events appear to be more random, while newspaper articles contain more facts, which explain the circumstances in more detail, thereby allaying fears of random violent acts.

  4. I don’t use Facebook either. But this is an awesome study. I hope this will drive the press to present more positive material on the news. They say “no news is good new”, that cause everything on the news is bad and negative.

  5. I deleted my FB account a couple of months ago, and reactivated because of the number of other sites that use FB logins. After reading this, I don’t think I’ll be looking at the FB feed ever again.


  6. I’m only on FB to keep track of what’s happening with family, friends and old acquaintances. Other than that, I rarely post (never in my own space, mostly replies), and have scrubbed the info down to the bare minimum (and locked down the security). I run pretty dark, so I doubt they get as much use out of me.

  7. AHA: The sun always shines on TV
    Facebook: The sun always shines for everyone

    Very much agreed with MDN, although I have a few “friends” who ventilate all their misfortune on FB….

      1. Wow! You’re just over the top obnoxious & juvenile. Aren’t you?

        What’s your problem(s)? Too many to count I suppose. You’re a nasty piece of work. Inferiority complexes like yours are a sad thing to behold. Perhaps you need to get a life elsewhere?

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