Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg has addressed allegations that her company had unwillingly manipulated the news feeds of 700,00 users in 2012 as part of a psychological experiment.
“This was one week and it was a small experiment,” Sandberg said on Wednesday in an interview with NDTV. “It has been communicated as an experience to shift emotions, it’s not exactly what it was. It was an experiment in showing people different things to see — to see how it worked. Again, what really matters here is that we take people’s privacy incredibly seriously and we will continue to do that.”
Several times during the interview the executive expressed regret over how the controversy unfolded, but each time she stopped short of apologizing for secretly conducting the experiment in the first place.
“So we clearly communicated really badly about this, and that we really regret. We do research in an ongoing way in a very privacy protected way to improve our service,” Sandberg added.
Results from the “emotions study,” as Sandberg put it, were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. The data showed “experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks,” suggesting that people can transfer their emotional state to others (via social networking, for example) without either party being aware.
When asked directly whether the week-long experiment was a mistake, Sandberg sidestepped the question and instead responded to an off-hand comment about the feasibility of the company’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, using this technique to manipulate elections.
“I want to be clear,” Sandberg said. “Facebook cannot control emotions … Facebook would never try to control elections.”