Ask before you tinker, Facebook

Whether or not it was technically legal, Facebook didn’t do good by their users when they conducted a recently released study.

Researchers at Facebook published a paper last month revealing that they had manipulated the newsfeeds of over half a million of their users, by changing the number of positive and negative posts that appeared.

The news was met with outrage, with some users saying it was a violation of their rights.

The study was unethical, regardless of whether Facebook’s study was technically legal according to their terms and conditions. Facebook isn’t obligated to do what their users want, but they still have a social obligation to be respectful of their users.

Facebook, like other social media outlets and search engines, is a free service, not a democratic right. In exchange for these services, users offer their personal information and data for the use of advertisers, marketers and researchers. This is an agreed-upon exchange.

But when people sign up for Facebook, though their data is free for use, they aren’t signing up to be lab rats.

Participants need to know the terms of psychological experiments, and some sort of conscious consent and acknowledgement needs to be given. Consent shouldn’t be based on a technicality buried in a 15-page terms and conditions document.

A participant’s psychological background is an important factor in a study’s data. Although Facebook didn’t tamper too much with their users’ newsfeeds, it was a dangerous attempt to provoke an emotional response in unknowing participants, some of whom may have mental illnesses.

Users need to be informed of studies in some way and have to opportunity to opt in or out. They don’t need to know the particulars, but must be consciously aware that they’re participating.

Researchers stated that the study was meant to improve their users’ experience — but at the end of the day, in what way did this study actually benefit anyone?

Journal Editorial Board >


Consent, Ethics, experiment, Facebook, newsfeed, Psychology, Social media, Study, users

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