Facebook makes changes to research policies

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Facebook has come under fire for its research practices, with many people feeling that the company is tampering with users’ moods via News Feed experiments.

Facebook Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer addressed this today, saying that Facebook is putting into effect a new framework that governs both internal work and research that might be published — starting with clearer guidelines for researchers:

In 2011, there were studies suggesting that when people saw positive posts from friends on Facebook, it made them feel bad. We thought it was important to look into this, to see if this assertion was valid and to see if there was anything we should change about Facebook. Earlier this year, our own research was published, indicating that people respond positively to positive posts from their friends.

Although this subject matter was important to research, we were unprepared for the reaction the paper received when it was published and have taken to heart the comments and criticism. It is clear now that there are things we should have done differently. For example, we should have considered other non-experimental ways to do this research. The research would also have benefited from more extensive review by a wider and more senior group of people. Last, in releasing the study, we failed to communicate clearly why and how we did it.

Schroepfer promised an “enhanced review process,” before research can begin on groups, population or content that may be considered deeply personal. The guidelines also require further review if the scope of research involves a collaboration with someone in the academic community.

Facebook has also created a panel — including the company’s most senior subject-area researchers as well as employees from Facebook’s engineering, research, legal, privacy and policy teams — that will review projects falling within the guidelines. This panel will exist in addition to Facebook’s current privacy cross-functional review process for research.

The social network has integrated education on research practices into its six-week training program for new engineers, as well as increased training for others doing research.

All published research by Facebook is available at a single location and will be updated regularly.

Readers: Do you think these guidelines will help?

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.