‘Creepy’ Facebook in row over mind games with users

Users outraged over secret experiment to ‘make people sad’

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‘Creepy’ Facebook in row over mind games with users Facebook is no stranger to controversy, especially when it comes to learning more about its users.
By  Stephen McBride Published  June 30, 2014

Facebook Inc found itself in the centre of another row over the weekend, over its treatment of users, after a blog drew Web denizens' attention to a 2012 study in which the social media firm tried to manipulate its members' emotions through content editing.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Animalnewyork.com highlighted the study, which was published in the March edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The project, conducted by the company's Data Science team, attempted to determine if there was any truth to the public perception that viewing other users' successes made others feel bad about their lives.

The test group was a sample of 689,003 Facebook users who were not told they were part of the experiment. Facebook requires users to agree to terms of use that give it sizeable freedom in how it uses personal data.

The research team wrote an algorithm to omit content from the sampled users' newsfeeds that contained words that could be connected to either positive or negative emotions. Over the course of a week the team measured whether this had any effect on the emotional flavour of the content posted by users in the sample.

Although the results showed a statistically very small proportion of the sample responded to the attempted "conditioning", outraged comments were still widespread. News of the experiment has renewed the continuing fierce debate over how popular Web service companies use the personal data of their captive users.

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