Before it was pitched to Facebook, the emotional manipulation study of nearly 700,000 users that has caused waves of controversy for the social network was apparently first pitched to the U.S. Army.
According to Mashable, an Army spokesman said a Cornell University representative sent a proposal to the U.S. military to fund a nearly identical program in 2008. Though the Army never funded it, the spokesman said, that proposal was for the same emotion-manipulation study from 2012 that’s caused the social network to face tough questions this week.
Army spokesman Wayne Hall told Mashable that the study creators thought the military could benefit from this kind of analysis of its troops. And Cornell University initially stated, in a June 10 press release publicizing the study, that it had received funding from the Army Research Office.
But a month later, as the news of the manipulation study spread across mainstream media and the social networks, Cornell amended the press release, saying the study had not received any external funding.
One of the authors of the study, Cornell’s Jeffrey Hancock, had received money from the Department of Defense in 2009 for another paper titled “Modeling Discourse and Social Dynamics in Authoritarian Regimes,” and that other Cornell researchers had also received funding for a study titled “Tracking Critical-Mass Outbreaks in Social Contagions.”
Both of those research efforts were funded by the Minerva Initiative, a Pentagon project to fund social science on strategic issues.
But as we found out, that’s not the only connection between Facebook’s recent study and the military. There’s that 2008 proposal the Army told Mashable about. Cornell apparently sent it to the Army Research Office, the same institution named in Cornell’s initial press release, for this very same study, according to Army spokesperson Wayne Hall.
“It was the same proposal,” Hall told Mashable. He said he didn’t have the specifics of the proposal, but “it was titled the same.”
Representatives from Cornell did not return requests for comment from TheBlaze.
It seems the social backlash to the study won’t quell quickly, and Facebook second-in-command Sheryl Sandberg may have fanned the flames by defending the study Wednesday.
Sandberg apologized for how the company communicated its 2012 mood manipulation study of unwitting users, but not for conducting it in the first place, according to the Washington Post.
“This was part of ongoing research companies do to test different products, and that was what it was; it was poorly communicated,” Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, said. “And for that communication we apologize. We never meant to upset you.”
The study was designed to examine “emotional contagion” on social networks, and to instigate the data collection Facebook altered the news feeds of almost 700,000 people to see if positive and negative status updates would affect their emotions. News of the tampering angered Facebook users over the weekend, with legal experts calling the ethics of the experiment into question.
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