Facebook's psychological study altering hundreds of thousands of users’ News Feeds to investigate "emotional contagion" was the most shared academic paper of 2014.
The study – published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and given the title "Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks" – was tweeted a total of 3,631 times, linked to by 169 different news outlets, and cited on 107 blogs, according to the data published by Altmetric.
users were outraged, but had unknowingly given permission for the experiments
However, these figures are far from comprehensive and don’t take into account the hundreds upon hundreds of stories and thinkpieces written and shared about the incident over the following weeks. Although Facebook initially equivocated and refused to admit wrongdoing, it was later revealed that the experiment was only one of hundreds carried out on users (all perfectly legal under the site’s terms and conditions), and the company was forced to apologize later in the year.
As far as notorious research goes the second-most cited paper in Altmetric’s data is more embarrassing than Facebook’s (although less of a concern for the ethics board). "Variation in Melanism and Female Preference in Proximate but Ecologically Distinct Environments" sounds like a dry read but the research became Twitter famous after grad student Dave Harris spotted a single comment in parentheses that had apparently slipped through the peer review process: "Should we cite that crappy Gabor paper here?" Facebook may have disrespected their users, but at least they didn't diss fellow scientists.