Why the Facebook Experiment is Lousy Social Science

Facebook is grappling with its impact on our social and emotional lives — and that’s a good thing. But it has to get the research right. Why Facebook did the experiment, and how to make it better.

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk

People Over Pixels,” one of the researchers suggested. We went with it.

Photo credit: Jolie O’Dell

Fail Harder

Empathy: Have Some

Ruthless Prioritization

Leon Festinger

This line of thinking suggests that Facebook’s aggressive efforts to grow and keep users glued to the site may backfire for well-being.

Burke distinguishes between “directed communication” activities such as conversing one-on-one with others or receiving their comments, and “passive consumption” activities, like browsing the News Feed and looking through other people’s profiles.

Measure Twice, Cut Once

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The way the study is currently designed, it unfortunately can do little to alleviate the concern that Facebook is making us unhappy.

If we assume that there was an effect to be seen, perhaps the most likely reason Kramer saw little to none is because he used a method to measure emotion that just doesn’t do the job.

Back to Basics

Sad bear
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What we say on Facebook is a biased representation of how we feel partly because what we say in any social situation may be a biased representation of how we feel, and partly because Facebook seems uniquely suited to producing biased representations.

Beyoncé woke up like this.
Photo credit: Nonu

It’s a clusterfuck that social scientists politely refer to as “context collapse.”

Indeed, Kramer’s self-censorship study found that users with more distinct communities of friends censored themselves more often.

Photo credit: Phil Hilfiker

Fixing the Facebook Experiment

Instead, Kramer and other researchers at Facebook should think about using something called experience sampling, long considered the “gold standard” of emotion research.

Photo credit: Facebook

Getting Consent

Some give-and-take is crucial for getting people to participate in research over the long-haul.

Living with Facebook

Whether or not the company decides to take further steps, we should spread the word about the number of things we can already do to be more mindful about our experiences on Facebook.

Reflect on your world, don’t promote yourself.

Photo credit: Ben Barry

Social media researcher. Founding Director @CTSPBerkeley, PhD @Berkeley ’17, @Stanford ’07. Multidisciplinarity is a way of life.

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