Facebook says the huge psychological experiment it secretly conducted on its users should have been “done differently” and announced a new set of guidelines for how it will approach future research studies.
In a blog post on Thursday, Mike Schroepfer, chief technology officer, said the company had been “unprepared” for the negative reactions it received when it published the results of an experiment in June.
Facebook published the results of a 2012 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Unbeknown to users, Facebook had tampered with the news feeds of nearly 700,000 people, showing them an abnormally low number of either positive or negative posts. The experiment aimed to determine whether the company could alter the emotional state of its users.
News of the research sparked outrage from people who felt manipulated by the company.
“What many of us feared is already a reality: Facebook is using us as lab rats, and not just to figure out which ads we’ll respond to but actually change our emotions,” wrote Animalnewyork.com, a blog post that drew attention to the study in June.
The experiment was designed to assess whether more positive or negative comments in a Facebook newsfeed would impact how the user updated their own page. Facebook used an algorithm to filter content. Researchers found those shown more negative comments posted more negative comments and vice versa.
“It is clear now that there are things we should have done differently,” Schroepfer writes. “For example, we should have considered other non-experimental ways to do this research. The research would also have benefited from more extensive review by a wider and more senior group of people. Last, in releasing the study, we failed to communicate clearly why and how we did it.”
He also announced a new set of guidelines for how Facebook will approach research in the future. Research that relates to content that “may be considered deeply personal (such as emotions) it will go through an enhanced review process before research can begin. The guidelines also require further review if the work involves a collaboration with someone in the academic community,” he said.
A review panel consisting of engineering, research, legal, privacy and policy teams will assess projects falling within these guidelines. Research practices have been added to Facebook’s six-week training “bootcamp” and the company’s academic research will be available for public scrutiny at a single location and regularly updated
“We believe in research, because it helps us build a better Facebook. Like most companies today, our products are built based on extensive research, experimentation and testing,” said Schroepfer. “We want to do this research in a way that honours the trust you put in us by using Facebook every day,” said.
This article was written by Dominic Rushe in New York, for theguardian.com on Thursday 2nd October 2014 21.54 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010