8 Fascinating And Disturbing Secret Experiments Of Facebook On Its Users

Facebook, the world’s biggest social networking site, with more than 1.50 billion monthly active users doesn’t just need users to make money. It needs users that are active and engaged. Facebook already knows whether you are single or dating, the first school you went to and of course all your likes and interests. It gathers that kind of information by looking at your daily Facebook activity, analyzing the posts and pages that you like and by running psychological experiments.

8 Fascinating And Disturbing Secret Experiments Of Facebook On Its Users

Yes, what many of us feared is already a reality: Facebook is using us as lab rats and has been conducting social experiments on its users. And yes, chances are you’ve involuntarily taken part at some point. Experiments are happening all the time at the company and that every Facebook users have been part of one at some point.

Here are few experiments were done by Facebook data scientists on users (possibly on you), sometimes in collaboration with academic researchers, that are now known to the public because they have been published.


  1. Study 1: Massive-Scale Emotional Contagion

  2. Study 2: Exploring Requests for Help on Facebook

  3. Study 3: Self-Censorship on Facebook

  4. Study 4: The Role of Social Networks in Information Diffusion

  5. Study 5: Selection Effects in Online Sharing

  6. Study 6: The Spread of Emotion via Facebook

  7. Study 7: Social Influence in Social Advertising

  8. Study 8:  Social Influence and Political Mobilization

Study 1: Massive-Scale Emotional Contagion

When: 2012

Number of people involved: 689,003 users

What Facebook wanted to find out: To test the emotional impact of users using the social network i.e., whether more positive or negative comments in a Facebook newsfeed would impact how the user updated their own page.

How they did it: For one week in January 2012, Facebook data scientists manipulated the news feeds of almost 700,000 users, showing some of them more happy and positive updates and others sadder than average and negative updates. All to see how it affected the users’ moods.

And when the week was over, these manipulated users were more likely to post either especially positive or negative posts themselves. Those shown more negative posts posted more negative comments and vice versa.

What Facebook found out: People’s emotions can indeed be affected by what they’re exposed to on Facebook.

Did Facebook violate your privacy? Even if this type of manipulation can’t be classified as a privacy violation, it definitely seems unethical. The study was described as “disturbing” by the public, after all, it involved hundreds of thousands of users unknowingly participating in a study that may have made them either happier or more depressed than usual.

Study 2: Exploring Requests for Help on Facebook

When: Summer 2012

Number of people involved: 20,000 users

What did Facebook want to find out: Who asks for something on Facebook?

How they did it: For two weeks in July and August 2012, Facebook researchers singled out status updates with requests in them, like  “What movie should I watch tonight?” “Is it okay to eat canned food that expired in 2007?” or “I need a ride to the airport.” They were interested in those regularly asking for help rather than whether they actually got it.

What Facebook found out: Users who visit Facebook less often, but who have a lot of friends on the network, are most likely to ask for help with stuff.

Did Facebook violate your privacy? No. The updates the researchers analyzed are public ones, hence, no surprise that someone’s collecting and studying them. And there’s really no invasion of privacy here.

8 Fascinating And Disturbing Secret Experiments Of Facebook On Its Users (4)

Study 3: Self-Censorship on Facebook

When: July 2012

Number of people involved: 3.9 million users

What did Facebook want to find out: How many people hold back from blasting the network with their thoughts on something?

How they did it: 17 days in July 2012, Facebook tracked every entry of more than five characters in a comment or compose box that didn’t get posted within 10 minutes.

What Facebook found out: 71% of the users “self-censored,” drafting comments that they never posted. Many others edited their posts before sending them out to the social network.

Did Facebook violate your privacy? Probably. The fact that Facebook has a record of not just what you post, but also what you don’t post, is at the very least disturbing.