Facebook introduces enhanced research policies

3 Oct 2014

Facebook has announced changes to the way the social network conducts research, following criticism of a paper it published on users’ emotional responses to posts.

The study was prompted by a 2011 report that suggested Facebook users experienced negative thoughts and feelings when they see positive posts from friends. In a statement, the firm’s chief technology officer, Mike Schroepfer, admitted the social network had made mistakes in its own review, and promised a more robust research process in future.

“In 2011, there were studies suggesting that when people saw positive posts from friends on Facebook, it made them feel bad,” wrote Schroeper.

“We thought it was important to look into this, to see if this assertion was valid and to see if there was anything we should change about Facebook. Earlier this year, our own research was published, indicating that people respond positively to positive posts from their friends.

“Although this subject matter was important to research, we were unprepared for the reaction the paper received when it was published and have taken to heart the comments and criticism. It is clear now that there are things we should have done differently. For example, we should have considered other non-experimental ways to do this research.

“The research would also have benefited from more extensive review by a wider and more senior group of people. Last, in releasing the study, we failed to communicate clearly why and how we did it.”

Stronger guidelines

The new framework being introduced by Facebook includes clearer guidelines and more comprehensive training for researchers. In addition, a panel that includes the company’s most senior subject-area researchers plus staff from its engineering, research, legal, privacy and policy teams has been established to ensure review projects adhere to the new rules.

All published research by Facebook can now be viewed via a newly launched website.

“We want to do this research in a way that honours the trust you put in us by using Facebook every day,” said Schroper.

“We will continue to learn and improve as we work toward this goal.”

Earlier this week, Facebook issued an apology to drag queens and the transgender community for deleting hundreds of their accounts that used alternative names instead of their real names.

Dean Van Nguyen was a contributor to Silicon Republic