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. Does anyone remember the old episode of Tomorrow People where the kid was handing out green and blue badges he’d made to his classmates? Then they all turned on each other?

  2. I was part of this illegal expierement, it went on for 6 months. I have post traumatic stress and it’s alot more dark sinister than the Sunday school version from the media. I thought I was going insane, tell anyone I didn’t believe myself and I lived it. Facebook, it’s on.

  3. This is both fascinating and scary.
    Yes, using research subjects who were not aware of being subjected to a research is morally questionable. But I guess it’s okay legally – we all agreed with this in the Terms and Conditions…

    Consider something else: at least in my opinion the experiment brought one big big plus. That is, more people will start realizing what the internet and especially social media are capable of (and have been already for several years). Hopefully, they will start taking more care of their privacy and will stop this awful habit of publishing all the details about their lives on-line…

Reader Feedback

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.