Facebook Promises More Responsible Research When Users Are Test Subjects

Policy changes follow mood experiments

Facebook is promising to more carefully handle how it uses the social network for research after the company was criticized this summer for experimenting on its members' moods.

Facebook publicly admitted that it didn't handle that research or the explanations very well, and it is implementing new guidelines with higher standards. "We're committed to doing research to make Facebook better, but we want to do it in the most responsible way," said Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer.

This summer, Facebook revealed that it studied the social network's effects on people's moods by only showing test subjects negative messages. Researchers wanted to see if overexposure to negative sentiments would lead Facebook users to feel sad.

Schroepfer said the company now has clearer guidelines about how it conducts research. The company is beefing up its review process, especially if a proposed study focuses on certain age groups or involves "content that could be deeply personal," such as the emotions of the users being impacted. Facebook also is creating a panel of senior researchers, engineers, lawyers and privacy teams to review all projects.

Training also is a priority, with a six-week "bootcamp" to educate staff about research protocols. Finally, the company will publish all of its research papers in a single place, so the public can see what Facebook is working on.

"We believe in research, because it helps us build a better Facebook. Like most companies today, our products are built on extensive research, experimentation and testing," Schroepfer said in the post. "We want to do this research in a way that honors the trust you put in us by using Facebook every day. We will continue to learn and improve as we work toward this goal."