Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Facebook Emotional Manipulation Experiment: A Collection of Readings

I will not make a real post of my own re the already infamous experiments (initially claimed to be military funded, but that, it seems, was a hoax), where Facebook allowed behavioural researchers to manipulate the allocation of status updates in personal feeds, to study the resulting emotional communicative behaviour of users. My own brief take is that, whatever else may be said on the matter, this is definitely not covered by the user agreement I've signed when joining Facebook. For while I did agree to Facebook testing out all sort of things to improve their service, I did certainly not agree to be a subject in a scientific research experiment, the result of which is published in a scientific journal. I also think that the study may harbour some substantive both methodological and research ethical difficulties, spilling over to not only Facebook, but also the prestigeous PNAS journal's editors, who seem to have taken proof of research ethical review rather lightly... But don't take my word for it, here are four selected sources, not all echoing my views exactly, which may help you make up your mind.

The first one simply set up what the whole thing is about in broad terms, providing a few useful links. The second discusses the scientific quality of the study, which is also important from a research ethics standpoint. The third is an account by a usually brilliant bioethics and research ethics law scholar, discussing the legal ramifications of the study, as well as details regarding what has and should have happened in procedural terms. The fourth is a purely research ethical account by a trusted bioethics colleague of mine. Enjoy!

1. Meyer, R: Everything We Know About Facebook's Secret Mood Manipulation Experiment, from The Atlantic.

2. Grohol, JM: Emotional Contagion on Facebook? More Like Bad Research Methods, from PsychCentral.

3. Meyer, MN: Everything You Need to Know About Facebook’s Controversial Emotion Experiment, from Wired.

4. Hunter, D: Consent and Ethics in Facebook’s Emotional Manipulation Study, from The Conversation.


  1. exactly the reason I am not on Facebook! I don't wan't people to know where I am and when, let alone what I am thinking! I won't take part in their secret agendas....