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Facebook emotional paper researcher explains study importance

updated 06:58 pm EDT, Tue July 1, 2014

Coauthor says benefits of research may not have been worth the backlash

Adam Kramer, co-author of the paper involving Facebook news feed manipulation, took to the social media service to explain the importance of the study earlier this week. Since news of the psychological study hit the Internet, many have wondered about the ethical implications of emotional manipulation by the company. Kramer indicated that the researchers didn't clearly state their motivations in the paper, leading to a misinterpretation of how the study was perceived.

The study, which occurred over a one week period in 2012, used an algorithm to filter out information on news feeds of 689,000 English-language accounts. The purpose of the study on emotional states, which was carried out unbeknownst to the users, reduced the number of positive or negative words to see if emotional contagion could occur without face to face interaction and nonverbal cues. It proved that text read on the Internet could influence emotions, based on the type of words used after being exposed to feed that leaned toward one emotional state.

"The reason we did this research is because we care about the emotional impact of Facebook and the people that use our product," said Kramer. "We felt that it was important to investigate the common worry that seeing friends post positive content leads to people feeling negative or left out. At the same time, we were concerned that exposure to friends' negativity might lead people to avoid visiting Facebook."

Kramer further explains how the research was carried out, explaining that only a small amount of content was deprioritized on news feeds, based only on the emotional word content. He reiterates that the items pulled weren't hidden or removed, but merely excluded on feeds. As it stated in the paper, the items could still be found on the friends' timelines.

Playing up the numbers aspect, he states that the number of people impacted by the study is only a small amount. In fact, it was so small that it "was the minimal amount to statistically detect it." Those in the study produced, on average, one or fewer words per 1,000 counted.

It appears that while the study may have been done under good intentions, the backlash make it more trouble that it is worth. Kramer said that he understands why people would be upset, even if the intent was never to do so.

"In hindsight, the research benefits of the paper may not have justified all of this anxiety," said Kramer.

Since the study took place, Facebook researchers have worked on improving internal review practices. Kramer said what was learned from the reaction to the emotional study will be incorporated.

by MacNN Staff



  1. Ω

    Mac Elite

    Joined: 11-18-03

    Facebook. Don't be creepy.

    Seems to be we are one step closer to 1984.

  1. Flying Meat

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 01-25-07

    Yeah. You did not need to do this study. You could have asked any linguist or psychology major. This was an abuse of position, and a betrayal of trust.

  1. elroth

    Junior Member

    Joined: 07-05-06

    I can't wait until Facebook begins changing words in peoples' news feeds for certain advertisers. Negative words = aspirin & food ads, positive words = car ads.

    You know Facebook had money in mind when they did this.

  1. smacker

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 04-24-03

    This guy can try to justify this as long as he wants. The fact remains. They excluded posts on the newsfeed. That they still could be found on friends timelines doesn't matter because the users didn't know this. To them, those posts didn't exist. And this flies in the face of the whole purpose of the newsfeed. To see ALL posts from ALL friends. Reliabl! For this "small amount" of people who were affected by this, the newsfeed was essentially useless, and they didn't even know it. There's no way they can talk themselves out of this. This is just unexeptable. But it didn't surprise me in the least.

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