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<nettime> Facebook's Mood Study: Orwellian newspeak 2.0
nettime's Winston Smith on Mon, 30 Jun 2014 11:37:26 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Facebook's Mood Study: Orwellian newspeak 2.0


Adam D. I. Kramer in Floyd, VA, United States

OK so. A lot of people have asked me about my and Jamie and Jeff's
recent study published in PNAS [1], and I wanted to give a brief public
explanation. The reason we did this research is because we care about
the emotional impact of Facebook and the people that use our product. 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. We didn't
clearly state our motivations in the paper.

Regarding methodology, our research sought to investigate the above
claim by very minimally deprioritizing a small percentage of content in
News Feed (based on whether there was an emotional word in the post) for
a group of people (about 0.04% of users, or 1 in 2500) for a short
period (one week, in early 2012). Nobody's posts were "hidden," they
just didn't show up on some loads of Feed. Those posts were always
visible on friends' timelines, and could have shown up on subsequent
News Feed loads. And we found the exact opposite to what was then the
conventional wisdom: Seeing a certain kind of emotion (positive)
encourages it rather than suppresses is.

And at the end of the day, the actual impact on people in the experiment
was the minimal amount to statistically detect it -- the result was that
people produced an average of one fewer emotional word, per thousand
words, over the following week.

The goal of all of our research at Facebook is to learn how to provide a
better service. Having written and designed this experiment myself, I
can tell you that our goal was never to upset anyone. 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.

While we?ve always considered what research we do carefully, we (not
just me, several other researchers at Facebook) have been working on
improving our internal review practices. The experiment in question was
run in early 2012, and we have come a long way since then. Those review
practices will also incorporate what we?ve learned from the reaction to
this paper.

[1] Kramer, Adam D. I., Jamie E. Guillory und Jeffrey T. Hancock (2014):
?Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through
social networks? http://www.pnas.org/content/111/24/8788

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