Angry mood manipulation subjects seize on interview with Facebook researcher Adam Kramer

Everybody wants a piece of Adam Kramer, the Facebook researcher who conducted Facebook’s now infamous mood manipulation study.

Angry Facebook users are expressing their outrage – where else – on Facebook, in the comments section of a March 29, 2012, interview with Kramer  titled “Meet a Facebook Data Scientist: Q&A with Adam Kramer.”

In the interview, Kramer, who studied decision making at the University of Oregon where he earned a doctorate in social psychology, talks about how awesome it is to work at Facebook rather than in academia, where red tape renders research a slow process with results sometimes relegated to obscurity. At Facebook, researchers “just message someone on the right team” and bam! Emotional manipulation is merrily underway.

Here’s the full text of the Q&A:

Meet a Facebook Data Scientist: Q&A with Adam Kramer

March 29, 2012 at 12:55pm

Adam Kramer is a Data Scientist at Facebook researching emotion expression, psycholinguistics and statistical methods. Read on to learn how he uses his background in psychology to understand behavior on Facebook, how his research influences the product and get his top tip for graduate students.

Q: Why did you join Facebook?

A: Facebook data constitutes the largest field study in the history of the world. Being able to ask–and answer–questions about the world in general is very, very exciting to me. At Facebook, my research is also immediately useful: When I discover something, we can use this to make improvements to the product. In an academic position, I would have to have a paper accepted, wait for publication, and then hope someone with the means to usefully implement my work takes notice. At Facebook, I just message someone on the right team and my research has an impact within weeks if not days

Q: What are some of the interesting questions you’ve answered since you’ve been here?

A: Do emotions spread contagiously? What do the words we choose have to say about how we are and who we are?

Q: What about the work you do here is meaningful? Why do you come to work in the morning?

A: All of the work here is meaningful because it contributes to a better understanding of how people communicate and interact with each other.

Q: What’s your advice for other graduating Psychology researchers?

A: Learn how to program. Even if you aren’t interested in a job like being a Facebook Data Scientist or an industry job in general, the biggest wastes of time I saw in graduate school were point-and-click data manipulation tasks in programs like Excel or SPSS. Start by doing your statistical analyses in R, and after the learning curve, you will find that your “results” sections are much, much faster to write!

Q: What do you do for fun?

A: I’m a referee for the Bay Area Derby Girls, a woman’s flat-track roller derby league in the Bay Area. I can also be found singing karaoke at least once a week.

A few people applauded Kramer’s work: “Scientist, thanks for giving this,” Rahul Patni wrote in 2012. On June 28, another commenter, Daiyu Hurst, wrote: “Ok very cool, Adam. I’ve been delighted by my ability to use Facebook for social network analysis, but behavioral psychological research, I hadn’t considered. Kudos!”

But most of them were mad. Like Nazi-comparison mad. Here’s a sampling of the comments posted since the scandal broke last Friday:

  • Nathan Nufe Collinson Amen wrote: “This is disgusting. You’ve put yourself in the same league as Josef Mengele. Do emotions spread contagiously? Yes. People are going to hate you for this”
  • Louis Laurenti wrote: “I’m not a lab rat or an animal, nor am I #6 in the village waiting to escape. What I am doing is closing my account asap”
  • Aimee Colvin wrote: “Mr Kramer, most facebook users may not understand or care, but after reading his article, your complete lack of ethical consideration has made me aware that you are the lowest sort of ‘researcher’ out there. Conducting studies without informed, explicit consent, is something every first year Psychology student is warned against … While you may be lining your pockets with cash, this failure to behave ethically will eventually haunt you.”
  • Nathan Nufe Collinson wrote: “Selling our information to advertisers is one thing, but experimenting on unsuspecting people is morally repugnant.”
  • Sandra Stewart wrote: “I would like to know if I was one of the people who were studied? In general my mood isn’t effected by my friends posts – I know who the sad sacks are and who the braggers are. But really??!?? I could have been an unwitting test subject? Academics have rules about that sort of thing. You may want to look into that for the sake of say… ETHICS.”
  • Shanon Schmidt Taylor wrote: “You have no business giving advice to graduate students on research if you don’t understand the concept of informed consent. Clearly you need a refresher course on the Belmont Report and the Common Rule – something you would be forced to do regularly if you were in one of those “academic positions” you want to look at with such scorn. And Cornell should be ashamed of themselves for agreeing to provide a sheen of legitimacy to you.”

Yikes.

Related: New questions raised about Facebook’s emotional manipulation study

Related: Facebook responds to criticism of its experiment on users

Gail Sullivan covers business for the Morning Mix blog.
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