Facebook’s Manipulation of Users’ Posts – Was It Ethical?

Facebook’s Manipulation of Users’ PostsFacebook is watching us, but once in early 2012 they were doing more than just that. They were also manipulating our moods and behavior.

Manipulating Posts for Tests

Facebook was using our posts as testing platforms for their supposed research. And how did they go about their research? By manipulating our posts – adding certain words to supposedly find out how negative or positive words placed in the users’ news feeds affect their status updates. This huge privacy invasion is put in these relatively innocent sounding words, and then the apology is administered to people for failing to inform them at that time.

According to Monika Bickert who heads the Global Policy Management of Facebook, this was a research aimed at improving the platform and giving customers a better product. This raises the question, what all do social media giants do in the name of customer care or product improvement?

Sandberg Admits the Mistake…Too Little Too Late

As the public got to know of this much later, it understandably caused a massive stir which Facebook thought it could settle with an apology. In India, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg recently admitted that the social media giant had “communicated really badly” on this experiment which she revealed was being carried out for a week. She said that this was just an element of the continuing research which companies do for testing their products. So what else could be going on, or considered acceptable, by social networks in the name of continuing research?

Nearly 700,000 Users Affected

This supposed one week study was carried out on nearly 700,000 users who had no clue about the manipulation of their timelines. The study was aimed at analyzing the psychology of the users and how certain words influence them. But the question that’s raised is, could the governments of various nations request the social media giant to carry out manipulation for influencing citizens’ moods? Anything is possible, as it seems there is nothing called total privacy online.

Results of the Study

So what findings did this emotion study come up with? Manipulating News Feeds which are displayed to around 700,000 users affects or influences the content which those users then post to Facebook. Positive News Feeds led to more positive statuses posted by these users, while negative News Feeds resulted in negative statuses. This is referred to as emotional contagion – a psychological phenomenon which makes people experience emotions similar to the kind displayed through the social media posts they see.

The study also apparently revealed that when emotional content, displayed through negative or positive sentiments, was omitted from the posts, which consequently reduced the number of words posted by the individual in the feed, they did not generate as many emotional posts in response.

Manipulation behind the Back

The study’s researchers claim that they never could read individual posts during the research. But that wouldn’t serve as much of a reassurance when one thinks that users were simply not aware of the stuff happening behind their backs at the time the research was ongoing.

However, while the trust in Facebook would have waned a little, there could not be any illegality pointed out here since people signing up for the social networking major agree to the terms and conditions which include that users must be willing to let their data be used for testing, analysis and research.

But the ethical question lurks, as does the mistrust Facebook has earned for itself.

About Rajeev Rajagopal

Rajeev Rajagopal

Rajeev Rajagopal is the Vice President of Managed Outsource Solutions, a leading BPO company in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Prior to joining MOS, he worked as a physical therapist. Having worked in several rehabilitation clinics, Rajeev has learned the importance of good medical records for medical billing and liability issues and the importance of the good back and front office support. He has extensive knowledge in SEO, medical billing and coding, and medical transcription. He has worked with a number of large organizations to effectively manage and provide outsourcing solutions.