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Facebook carried out hundreds of tests on users with few limits

The experiments, carried out by Facebook’s Data Science team, covered topics like the causes of loneliness, how social behaviours spread through networks, and ‘political mobilisation messages.’

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FACEBOOK HAS ENDURED much criticism since its mood study back in 2012 came into the spotlight, but it was one of many tests the company has carried out.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the company’s Data Science team has run hundreds of experiments since it was founded in 2007.

One example involved thousands of users receiving a message two years ago. It stated that they were being locked out of the site because Facebook believed they were robots or using fake names and to get back in, they had to prove they were real.

However, Facebook knew most of the users were real, and the message was deliberately sent to help improve its anti-fraud measures.

While normal studies require consent from participants to carry out such a test, Facebook relied on users’ agreeing to its Terms of Service, which at the time said that such data could be used to improve its products. Now, those terms say that user data may be used for research purposes.

One former data scientist Andrew Ledvina, who worked with the company from February 2012 to July 2013, told the Wall Street Journal that there was no review process and that anyone could run a test adding “they’re always trying to alter peoples’ behaviour.”

The majority of Facebook’s experiments have resulted in published studies, looking into topics like the causes of loneliness, how social behaviours spread through networks and in 2010, how ‘political mobilisation messages’ sent to 61 million people caused people in social networks to vote in the US congressional elections.

Most members of the team hold degrees from major universities in fields including computer science, artificial intelligence and computational biology, while some worked in academic research before joining the company.

Recently, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer (COO) Sheryl Sandberg apologised for ‘poorly communicating’ the details of its research and pledged that the social network will not try to control its users’ emotions.

However, that hasn’t stopped the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, who oversees Facebook’s European operation, from questioning the company about the research.

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Quinton O'Reilly

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