Ethics of social experiments on Facebook

In late 2014, there was an uproar about revelation that facebook was conducting social experiments on its users by changing (or manipulating) users’ newsfeeds to see the effect of more positive stories vs. more negative ones for example. This issue brought up questions around the ethics of experimenting on subjects without their knowledge or consent.

With over a billion users on facebook from all races, social classes, and nations including every possible cross section of the human race, this platform allows for experimentation on a scale never before possible. Social science experiments require large samples to increase the validity of their findings and facebook offers just that.

What if asking people for consent somehow changed the validity of the results? What if people chose not to participate and our ability to use this potentially revolutionary tool (facebook) was now limited?

These are some of the many issues to consider. Below are a few of articles about the issue.

1. Facebook sorry – almost – for secret psychological experiment on users

“Facebook published the results of a 2012 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Unbeknown to users, Facebook had tampered with the news feeds of nearly 700,000 people, showing them an abnormally low number of either positive or negative posts. The experiment aimed to determine whether the company could alter the emotional state of its users.”

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/oct/02/facebook-sorry-secret-psychological-experiment-users

2.Furor Erupts Over Facebook’s Experiment on Users

“A social-network furor has erupted over news that Facebook Inc., in 2012, conducted a massive psychological experiment on nearly 700,000 unwitting users.”

http://www.wsj.com/articles/furor-erupts-over-facebook-experiment-on-users-1404085840

3. Facebook Experiments Had Few Limits

“Thousands of Facebook Inc. users received an unsettling message two years ago: They were being locked out of the social network because Facebook believed they were robots or using fake names. To get back in, the users had to prove they were real.”

http://www.wsj.com/articles/facebook-experiments-had-few-limits-1404344378

4.On the ethics of Facebook experiments

“Facebook found itself in the hot seat once again this week following the publication of a study that experimentally manipulated the content of more than 600,000 users’ newsfeeds. The study finds that increasing positive content in users’ newsfeeds makes them post more positive content themselves. Likewise, increasing the amount of negative content a user sees increases the number of negative posts.”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2014/07/03/on-the-ethics-of-facebook-experiments/

5.Facebook emotion study breached ethical guidelines, researchers say

“Researchers have roundly condemned Facebook’s experiment in which it manipulated nearly 700,000 users’ news feeds to see whether it would affect their emotions, saying it breaches ethical guidelines for “informed consent”.”

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jun/30/facebook-emotion-study-breached-ethical-guidelines-researchers-say

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