- The Washington Times - Monday, June 30, 2014

Privacy advocates are seeing red after finding out that Facebook researchers conducted a secret experiment that tested site users’ reactions and responses to purposely planted and manipulated news content.

For a week in 2012, Facebook swapped out news content for almost 690,000 users and in some cases subbed in more positive posts — and in others, more negative news, CNN Money reported. The question researchers from Cornell, the University of California, San Francisco and Facebook wanted to answer: Would differently toned news content influence the tone of social media users’ posts?

The secret test came to light when researchers published their findings in the academic journal, “Proceedings” of the National Academy of Science, CNN Money reported. And the findings were clear: Users who were shown more negative news actually ended up posting more negative messages, while those fed more positive news and headlines, posted more upbeat Facebook messages.

Even though Facebook’s Terms of Service allows for such secretive studies, users and privacy advocates were still angry.

“I wonder if Facebook KILLED anyone with their emotion manipulation stunt,” privacy activist Lauren Weinstein posted on Twitter, CNN Money reported. “At their scale and with depressed people out there, it’s possible.”

Meanwhile, Facebook researcher Adam Kramer said he didn’t intent to make users upset.

“I can understand why some people have concerns about it, and my coauthors and I are very sorry for the way the [academic journal’s] paper described the research and any anxiety it caused,” Mr. Kramer wrote in a Facebook post. “In hindsight, the research benefits of the paper may not have justified all of this anxiety.”

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