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Other Secret Experiments Facebook Should Conduct on Its User-Subjects

Media Guy Has Some Suggestions

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Facebook's European headquarters at Hanover Quay in Dublin, Ireland.
Facebook's European headquarters at Hanover Quay in Dublin, Ireland. Credit: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

The news over the weekend that Facebook secretly conducted mood-altering experiments on nearly 700,000 users -- manipulating the proportion of positive and negative posts in individual News Feeds to see if it could affect people's "experience of emotions" (spoiler: it can!) -- has provoked predictable outrage. Adam Kramer, one of the Facebook data scientists who conducted the study (creepily titled "Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks") has, also predictably, issued a sort of half-apology, writing on his Facebook page on Sunday that "my coauthors and I are very sorry for the way the paper described the research and any anxiety it caused. In hindsight, the research benefits of the paper may not have justified all of this anxiety."

The outrage seems likely to blow over quickly in the U.S. -- at this point Americans seem almost entirely inured to Facebook's shadiness -- but maybe not quite so fast in Europe. Last night, The Guardian reports, Jim Sheridan, a senior member of the British parliament, called for an investigation, saying, "This is extraordinarily powerful stuff and if there is not already legislation on this, then there should be to protect people. ... If people are being thought-controlled in this kind of way there needs to be protection and they at least need to know about it."

So far, Facebook hasn't reacted to Sheridan's concerns, but I think it should -- maybe with a statement like, "We demand an investigation into why Jim Sheridan feels this way. Is someone making him say these things?"

Meanwhile, my advice to Facebook is, before the British parliament or any other legislative body acts, you might as well get while the getting's good. Do some more studies while you still can! Some suggestions:

• Can Facebook make a dog person a cat person -- perhaps by repeatedly showing dog people videos like this?

• Can Facebook make a cat person a dog person -- perhaps by repeatedly showing cat people what this awesome dog is up to?

• Can Facebook make you a better lover?

• Can Facebook turn a straight guy gay? Like, what if Facebook upped the proportion of News Feed photos and videos of men that even straight guys admit are hot, like Ryan Gosling? Hey bro, does this make you feel anything?

No? Then how about this classic video of Ryan Gosling in a tank top breaking up a street fight?

• Can Facebook make a gay person straight? For instance, what if Andy Cohen's News Feed was flooded with pictures of this guy?

• Can Facebook help you shed belly fat with one weird trick?

• Can Facebook make you feel bitter and manipulated? Oh, wait, we already know the answer to that.

Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.

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