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Facebook Officer Says Mood Manipulation Study Was ‘Poorly Communicated’

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MENLO PARK (CBS SF) — Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg did not apologize for the company’s psychological experiment on nearly 700,000 users, but instead said the move was “poorly communicated.”

In the first public comment on the study, Sandberg said companies do what Facebook did all the time.

“This was part of ongoing research companies do to test different products, and that was what it was; it was poorly communicated,” Sandberg told the Wall Street Journal Wednesday. “And for that communication we apologize. We never meant to upset you.”

The Menlo Park-based company conducted a one-week study in 2012 to see if they could influence user mood by altering news feeds.

Employees tweaked the visible content for nearly 700,000 users to provide them with either upbeat posts or primarily negative news. The company then monitored subsequent posts to see how positive or negative the studied user’s posts were.

Privacy advocates say the research was done without telling Facebook users. The terms of service say your account can be used for research, but some argue that the experiment goes beyond that standard.

“I know Facebook experiments in terms of what they show people on news feed, but it’s creepy when people think their emotions are being messed with, and also that researchers are looking over their shoulders, so to speak, and recording what they are saying—even if it is for research purposes” said KCBS technology analyst Larry Magid.

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