Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg weighed in on the controversy over a study by social scientists from the social network, Cornell University, and the University of California-San Francisco, in which the researchers randomly selected 689,003 Facebook users and tinkered with the number of positive or negative stories that appeared in their News Feeds to gauge the results of those users’ moods.
This was part of ongoing research companies do to test different products, and that was what it was; it was poorly communicated. And for that communication, we apologize. We never meant to upset you.
We take privacy and security at Facebook really seriously because that is something that allows people to share.
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 percent of users, or 1 in 2,500), 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 it.
Readers: What is your reaction to Facebook’s responses to the controversy?