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Facebook Fallout, Facts and Frenzy 160

Posted by samzenpus
from the to-friend-or-not-to-friend dept.
redletterdave (2493036) writes Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg said the company's experiment designed to purposefully manipulate the emotions of its users was communicated "poorly". Sandberg's public comments, which were the first from any Facebook executive following the discovery of the one-week psychological study, were made while attending a meeting with small businesses in India that advertise on Facebook. "This was part of ongoing research companies do to test different products, and that was what it was," Sandberg said. "It was poorly communicated. And for that communication we apologize. We never meant to upset you." anavictoriasaavedra points out this article that questions how much of this outrage over an old press release is justified and what's lead to the media frenzy. Sometimes editors at media outlets get a little panicked when there's a big story swirling around and they haven't done anything with it. It all started as a largely ignored paper about the number of positive and negative words people use in Facebook posts. Now it's a major scandal. The New York Times connected the Facebook experiment to suicides. The story was headlined, Should Facebook Manipulate Users, and it rests on the questionable assumption that such manipulation has happened. Stories that ran over the weekend raised serious questions about the lack of informed consent used in the experiment, which was done by researchers at Cornell and Facebook and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. But to say Facebook’s slight alteration of news feeds caused people to suffer depression seems to be unsupported by any kind of data or logic.
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Facebook Fallout, Facts and Frenzy

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  • by Sockatume (732728) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @08:34AM (#47375147)

    "the questionable assumption that such manipulation has happened"

    They literally wrote a peer-reviewed scientific paper demonstrating that they manipulated people's moods to a statistically significant degree, I don't think there's much you can call questionable about it from Facebook's perspective.

  • Ethics (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ceoyoyo (59147) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @08:38AM (#47375179)

    Human experimentation without review board approval and informed consent violates a number of national and international laws. It doesn't matter whether anyone gets hurt.

  • by Pieroxy (222434) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @09:24AM (#47375441) Homepage

    People are controlling your mind all the time. Every time you see an ad, someone is trying to control your mind to try to convince you buy something. Every time you read an article in a paper, someone controls your mind to try to get their point across. Every time you argue with someone she is trying to control your mind by getting her point across. Etc.

    Get off your high horse, use your brain.

  • by Theovon (109752) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @09:27AM (#47375463)

    As has been pointed out many times, Facebook was doing their usual sort of product testing. They actively optimize the user experience to keep people using their product (and, more importantly, clicking ads). The only difference between this time and all the other times was that they published their results. This was a good thing, because it introduced new and interesting scientific knowledge.

    Because of this debacle, Facebook (and just about every other company) will never again make the mistake of sharing new knowledge with the scientific community. This is truly a dark day for science.

    Ferengi rule of aquisition #285: No good deed ever goes unpunished.

  • A Non Apology (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sjbe (173966) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @09:31AM (#47375513)

    "This was part of ongoing research companies do to test different products, and that was what it was," Sandberg said. "It was poorly communicated. And for that communication we apologize. We never meant to upset you."

    This is identical to saying "I don't know what we did that upset you but whatever it was I apologize". They don't get it. It basically means that they are going to continue treating their users as insects to be experimented upon and lack the moral compass to understand why what they did was wrong. The fact that they ran an experiment is fine in principle but HOW you do it matters. We insist that academic researchers run their psychology experiments by a review board and when necessary get informed consent. It's not a hard thing to do and we do it for very good reasons. Facebook has not presented any plausible reason we should hold them to a different standard.

    I'm very glad I do not have a facebook account and at this point I doubt I ever will. This is simply not a company I care to be involved with any closer than I have to be.

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