A study was published recently showing that in January 2012, Facebook manipulated 689,003 members feeds to display a larger amount of positive or negative status updates. Running over a one week duration, this information was used to show that the moods of your friends on social media can affect your own mood positively or negatively on a day to day basis.
This manipulation has sparked outrage by some, claiming a lack of ethical practice – especially seeing as the ‘subjects’ were not notified of this study.
As far as legality is concerned, Facebook is in the clear as users agree to give up their data for analysis, testing and research upon sign up. However, the angered users aren’t claiming issues with the data collected, they’re upset that their feeds were manipulated without consultation.
Addressing the issue, a Facebook spokesman stated:
“This research was conducted for a single week in 2012 and none of the data used was associated with a specific person’s Facebook account. We do research to improve our services and to make the content people see on Facebook as relevant and engaging as possible. A big part of this is understanding how people respond to different types of content, whether it’s positive or negative in tone, news from friends, or information from pages they follow. We carefully consider what research we do and have a strong internal review process. There is no unnecessary collection of people’s data in connection with these research initiatives and all data is stored securely.” The Atlantic
Adam D.I Kramer (being one of the studies authors and a Facebook employee) gave his thoughts through a comment on a public Facebook status:
“And at the end of the day, the actual impact on people in the experiment was the minimal amount to statistically detect it,” he writes. “Having written and designed this experiment myself, I can tell you that our goal was never to upset anyone. […] In hindsight, the research benefits of the paper may not have justified all of this anxiety.” The Atlantic
So although Facebook users do agree to share their information, technically they aren’t in agreeance with the alteration of their data (in this case, news feeds).
Susan Fiske, a Princeton University psychology professor helped edit this study also shared some thoughts on the issue:
“It’s ethically okay from the regulations perspective, but ethics are kind of social decisions. There’s not an absolute answer. And so the level of outrage that appears to be happening suggests that maybe it shouldn’t have been done…I’m still thinking about it and I’m a little creeped out, too.” The Atlantic
Facebook has been rumored to partake in data manipulation studies like this more often than you may think. Should this access of data make you worried? Honestly the general population aren’t going to batt an eyelid, as long as they can access their fair share of recycled memes and baby photos.
Image courtesy of Post Grad Problems