No, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg did not apologize for that creepy psych study

Image Credit: Assets via Shutterstock & Facebook, illustration by Eric Blattberg / VentureBeat

Facebook played with 700,000 of its users’ emotions by deliberately feeding them gloomy and depressing information. The world got upset, shockingly. And Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg apologized yesterday.

Or did she?

Sheryl Sandberg

Above: Sheryl Sandberg

Well, here’s what Sandberg said in her “apology.”

“It was poorly communicated …

“For that communication we apologize …

“We never meant to upset you.”

Those of you who have kids (who seldom want to own their mistakes) or those who work with the local office A-hole (who never feels the need to) will recognize that apology instantly. It’s the oh-shit-people-called-me-on-my-behavior-so-it’s-damage-control-time apology.

It’s also the I’m not sorry I did it but … I am sorry I got caught apology.

The study wasn’t poorly communicated, it wasn’t communicated at all. The global mob is not demanding an apology for the communication or lack of communication, it’s demanding an apology for Facebook playing God and doing unannounced, unsolicited, unapproved studies on ordinary, average people.

And: “We never meant to upset you?”

Really? That makes it all better, doesn’t it? Especially when you have Facebook global head of policy Monika Bickert saying that the company’s spooky mind-altering studies were all about innovation. So it was really all for our own good in the long run.

Facebook, here’s a good apology:

“I’m sorry, we screwed up. I apologize, and it won’t happen again.”

But Facebook probably doesn’t really get it yet, or understand the problem. After all, its entire modus operandi, its business model, is predicated on altering our minds by presenting a certain slice of life to us through its usually-bubbly reality bubble creator, EdgeRank.

In a very real sense, the entirety of Facebook is a massive unregulated billion-person psychology experiment, with controls and dials and buttons that are very much private, very much unknown, very much proprietary trade secrets. How do we know what Facebook has included in that algorithm that makes us happier, or grumpier, or more likely to click on ads and buy stupid shit?

Psychology experiments are regulated precisely because people matter, and consequences happen.

What if, for example, one of those 700,000 people had been suffering from depression, secretly, and as a result of seeing sad stories, took his or her life? Would Facebook have been responsible?

A real apology requires a real understanding of the real actions you took. I don’t see any of that yet from the big blue monster.

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 w... read more »

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37 comments
Fritz Huie
Fritz Huie

They don't owe us an apology. We owe them a thank you for publishing a study to show us how easily we can be manipulated by each other's posts.

Ivan Lim
Ivan Lim

I don't think this is any different from brick and mortar stores changing their store layout and observing the change's effect on their customers' behaviour/buying patterns. A/B testing to improve the customer experience (which in turn improves sales) is very common. Why is it that people are horrified at Facebook, but don't feel outraged at their local supermarkets? It's no coincidence that the toys and candies are placed on the lower shelves, within your children's reach. Did it occur to you that your emotional position might be influenced by the way the news channels like VB are framing the issue? Look at this post, and the article headline. imho these are also forms of psychological manipulation.

Mary Snee
Mary Snee

Maybe she was too busy leaning in.......

Dallas Literal Johnston
Dallas Literal Johnston

So you morons are upset about a psych experiment that selected for more than a usual amount of "negativity" in a day, but you willingly subject yourselves to gun violence, murder, zombie apocalypses, drug addiction, racism, etc. on the television and big screen every day of your pathetic lives? No, no hypocrisy, here...

Jorge Martinez
Jorge Martinez

Why is it that we complain when stuff like this happens. Yet we don't do anything about it? Why do we keep coming back to Facebook despite all the wrong they do? Here's an experiment worth performing: Quit Facebook.

Eric Tsai
Eric Tsai

whereas venture beat simply upsets readers with low quality articles.

Anton Exists
Anton Exists

I think this is a super normal thing that could not have been done without, regardless of how some people may feel, for some reason.

David Siorpaes
David Siorpaes

Come on... How the hell this "creepy experiment" could have damaged anyone? That's ridiculous

Danny BrokeAss Ortega
Danny BrokeAss Ortega

lol thats why they make the terms of agreement so long so u wont read it and know what they can do.

Phillip Jackson
Phillip Jackson

get over it. Using FB to study all sorts of stuff is so obvious. Some folks would bitch about any and every thing

Igor Correa
Igor Correa

Fuck off VB, you're near to be unfollowed by lots of people.

Éder Santana
Éder Santana

I wonder who Facebook is gonna elect the next president using its new "mood biasing" tool...

Aadharsh Kannan
Aadharsh Kannan

Passive observation is one thing, active manipulation of content is another. The irony is me typing this on facebook itself.

Mars Cyrillo
Mars Cyrillo

I wonder why people were expecting Shery's apology and not Zuckerberg's. He is Facebook, not her. 


And I agree with the commenter who said that they would never fully apologize and open the flanks for a deeper discussion. Now it's all about "let's get passed this quickly."


The best response Facebook should get from the community is this simple one: stop using the service, there are many other free ways to connect to your friends.

Steve Mahoney
Steve Mahoney

One of those 'Kiss My Assets' Apology....Ha...Ha....?

Alex Perez
Alex Perez

Classic corporate non-pology! LOL!

John Deckard
John Deckard

Only few people and many "mass media" are pissed off.

Deborah Freymond
Deborah Freymond

I'd like to be the proverbial fly on the wall and see exactly how much $$ they raked in for this so called emotion study....probably a bundle ....paid for by some Dr who's writing something...and it was probably cheaper than paying the guinea pigs individually..or who knows maybe it was a study being ran by the government since they are now in their back pocket

Joao Barros
Joao Barros

why would anyone think that she was stupid enough to apologize. isnt that the same as consenting to legal liability. she would then have to apologize to the share holders for apologizing in the first place.

Osiris Romero
Osiris Romero

I don't understand why everyone is freaking out over this. Companies conduct tests like these all the time on their customers/users. Even grocery stores in the 50's would use their security cameras to observe customers in their own A/B experiments. This is nothing new.

Dennis A Xu
Dennis A Xu

One more article like this and I stop reading venture beat

Toby Farren
Toby Farren

Why is it creepy? It was for the betterment of the product. No harm, no foul

Ken Kelly
Ken Kelly

The real question is how do we know no one didn't kill themselves?