Facebook experiment connected to Pentagon research on civil unrest


Last week, a study released information that Facebook conducted a “mind experiment” which manipulated users’ newsfeeds in order to monitor their emotions after viewing positive or negative posts. One of the authors of the Facebook “mind experiment” study received funding from the Pentagon’s Minerva Research Institute in order to study civil unrest.

Jeffrey T. Hancock, a Professor in the Communications and Information Science departments at Cornell University, received funding from the Minerva Research Institute, funded by the Pentagon, in order to conduct a study entitled ‘Modeling Discourse and Social Dynamics in Authoritarian Regimes.’

The Facebook experiment is said to have been conducted for the purpose of understanding how users would react to certain posts though Adam Kramer, another author of the research experiment, noted on his account:

We felt that is was important to investigate the common worry that seeing friends post positive content leads to people feeling negative or left out. At the same time, we were concerned that exposure to friends’ negativity might lead people to avoid visiting Facebook. We didn’t clearly state our motivations in the paper.

Though the study was received with much criticism from the online community due to not being notified of the experiment, the connection to a Pentagon-funded research project has received even more outrage.

As an expert in “psychological and interpersonal dynamics of social media, deception, and language”, as noted on Cornell University’s website, Hancock’s affiliation with spying on Facebook users and manipulating their content in order to measure their emotional response while also receiving funding from Pentagon financed programs is seen as a major conflict of interest for many web surfers.

Cornell University also participated in another study funded by the Minerva Research Institute along with the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research that aims to predict the potential dynamics of social movement mobilisation connected to social networks such as Facebook.