Facebook's psychology study under scrutiny

Facebook, already frequently criticized with regards to user privacy, has now come under fire for a clandestine study it conducted on users' emotional disposition when reading tailored newsfeeds.

Facebook has been at the center of controversy in the tech world after it was revealed that the social network manipulated the feeds of its users to examine how they react to changes in the tone of their friends' posts. 

The main finding of the study, according to Karen North, professor of social media and psychology at USC, is that Human beings are social animals — People saw that their friends were posting positive or negative things, and leaned towards doing what their friends were doing. 

As for the motivations behind the study, improving Facebook's core business was likely the key. 

“This is probably a combination of how to get people to buy things but also how to drive up engagement with Facebook,” says North. 

She also noted that the mining of consumer data in such a manner is fairly common. The reaction here, she argues, might speak to the nature of the business Facebook is in. 

She adds, "This is nothing new, it's just that it feels a little more invasive here because it feels like it is infiltrating our private conversations."

About the author

Ben Johnson is the host of Marketplace Tech.

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