Facebook has come under fire this week for a controversial experiment it performed on 689,000 of its users in 2012. The experiment, in which it promoted either positive or negative comments in a percentage of its users’ news feeds, was orchestrated by the company’s Data Science team.
The team, founded in 2007, is made up of around 30 doctors, scientists, and ex-academics who The Wall Street Journal reports have been able to conduct hundreds of tests on Facebook’s 1.3 billion users with few boundaries or limitations.
The Wall Street Journal describes one such test, in which thousands of Facebook users received a message from the company. The message said the affected users were to be blocked from the social network because Facebook thought they were either robots, or using fake names. In reality, Facebook thought no such thing — the message was deliberately sent to real users in a bid to bolster Facebook’s anti-fraud capabilities.
Experiments such as these were reportedly not subjected to a formal review before they began. Speaking to The Wall Street Journal, Andrew Ledvina — who worked as a data scientist for Facebook between 2012 and 2013 — said “anyone on that team could run a test,” without needing to follow the kind of stringent review process academic experiments are subject to. Ledvina said that tests were so commonplace that scientists instead worried that users would be involved in too many experiments at once, providing inaccurate results.
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