Lead Facebook researcher expresses regret over secret 2012 'mood' study

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Image Credit: Sean MacEntee via Flickr

After the story broke Saturday that Facebook had experimented with the moods of 700,000 of its users, the lead researcher on the project, Facebook data scientist Adam Kramer, sent VentureBeat an email Sunday pointing to his statement on the affair.

The research, which Kramer says was completed in 2012, manipulated the news feeds of only a small percentage of Facebook users, and then only for a small number of posts.

Kramer says the reason for the research was to “investigate the common worry that seeing friends post positive content leads to people feeling negative or left out.”

That’s the envy issue — the idea that seeing posts from people who are more affluent or more attractive us can make us feel bummed out. The “left out” response comes from seeing photos of fun events that the Facebooker was not invited to.

The two best known studies on Facebook angst were performed at the University of Michigan and at Berlin’s Humboldt University in Germany in 2013.

Kramer says Facebook also wanted to know about user’s reactions to negative content.

“We were concerned that exposure to friends’ negativity might lead people to avoid visiting Facebook,” Kramer says.

Kramer denies that Facebook’s goal in the research “was never to upset anyone,” as Kramer puts it.

“I can understand why some people have concerns about it, and my coauthors and I are very sorry for the way the paper described the research and any anxiety it caused.”

“In hindsight, the research benefits of the paper may not have justified all of this anxiety,” he says.

Read Kramer’s full statement here.

More information:

Facebook is the world’s largest social network, with over 1.15 billion monthly active users. Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg in February 2004, initially as an exclusive network for Harvard students. It was a huge hit: in 2 we... read more »

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