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July 2, 2014

Facebook mood experiment angers users

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Many Facebook users are outraged after it was recently revealed that the popular social networking site manipulated the information fed to hundreds of thousands of users’ accounts as part of a scientific study. The experiment took place over the span of a week in 2012 and users were not asked permission nor informed about the changes at the time.

Facebook altered 700,000 users’ newsfeeds to show either a stream of positive content or a stream of negative content to test if this affected users’ moods.

The results of the study, a joint project between Facebook and Cornell University, were recently published in a scientific journal.

To gauge reaction to the controversial study, the NewsHour asked visitors to submit their opinions to its website.

One reader, who identified herself as Carrie, said, “People don’t read terms of service, and then they get upset when Facebook does something that the term allows.”

Another reader was more critical towards Facebook’s terms of service.

“The problem is that the terms of service is deliberately so vague that they can basically claim that they do whatever they want at any time,” said user “Scott.”

Reed Albergotti from the Washington Post suggests users should be asked for consent a second time if they are going to be part of a study and be informed about possible risks.

“If someone was predisposed to depression, that might have triggered some sort of emotional instability,” said Albergotti.

Researching data from private companies is relatively new and is still considered an ethical gray area.


Warm up questions
  1. Do you have a Facebook account?
  2. Have you ever read the Terms of Service on Facebook? Or for any other social media?
  3. What privacy concerns do you have about using social media?
Discussion questions
  1. Do you personally feel angry about the Facebook manipulation study?
  2. Do you feel like seeing posts/photos from your Facebook friends changes your attitude about your own life? For example: If you see many people having a good time on Facebook, do you feel more negative about yourself/if you see many people having a hard time do you feel better about yourself?
  3. What do you consider more important – the academic study or online user’s privacy and rights?
  4. There are ethical laws applied to government institutions, to protect people’s privacy from the government. Ethical laws do not apply as much to private companies. Should ethical laws be applied to private companies too?
  5. How important are maintaining ethics?
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