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Facebook: We can't and won't control emotions

Sharon Gaudin | July 3, 2014
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg takes on controversy, regrets bad communication.

Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg, speaking about the company's controversial psychological experiment for the first time Wednesday, apologized for upsetting users.

Sandberg, who is second only to Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the social network, took on the topic of the experiment on emotions while in New Delhi to meet with advertisers.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg
Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, in New Delhi to speak to advertisers, gave an interview to a local TV station where she apologized for Facebook's upsetting users over a controversial experiment on users' emotions that was conducted without their knowledge. (Photo: Adnan Abidi/Reuters)

"So we clearly communicated really badly about this and that we really regret," Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, said in an interview aired on India's NDTV. "We are in communication with regulators all over the world, and this will be OK and we will continue to make sure users understand that we care about their privacy."

"This was one week and it was a small experiment," she added.

Sandberg said she was sorry that users are upset. She did not, however, say she was sorry the research was conducted.

"It's not exactly what it was," she responded when asked about what the interviewer referred to as the emotional experiment. "It was an experiment in showing people different things to see how it worked. And again, what really matters here is that we take people's privacy incredibly seriously... I want to be clear. Facebook can't control emotions. And cannot and will not try to control emotions."

Patrick, Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy, said he was surprised at the words that Sandberg used in the interview.

"Facebook can't and won't control emotions? They did," he told Computerworld. "This was confusing. There appears to be a difference between what happened and what she is saying. Facebook did manipulate emotions, but Sandberg is saying they can't and won't."

He added that Facebook doesn't seem to have qualms about conducting this kind of research on its users.

"This apology doesn't help them in the public eye, but I think it communicates what Facebook thinks about it," Moorhead said.

Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group, said it was smart for a Facebook executive to take on the issue.

"Facebook's intentions were probably only to see how to make ads more effective," Olds said. "However, they were explicitly trying to alter user moods -- both positively and negatively. It seems like Facebook was looking to see if they could alter people's feeds to impact their moods, which is something that an advertiser might want to take advantage of."

 

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