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Unethical or Ethical: That is the question Essay

Since the dawn of Facebook, the question of if the company is ethical or not has definitely been one that has been under great debate. There are some individuals that feel it is just another tool to give the government as well as other people, in general, an avenue to spy on the majority of our population with. Are you a Facebook user? Why do you use it? Do you find yourself looking up people you do or don’t know personal pages? After reading the article, “Experimental Evidence of Massive-scale Emotional Contagion Through Social Networks” published last week in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS), I found myself disturbed on so many different levels. As summarized in this article, Facebook conducted an experiment in which it manipulated nearly 700,000 users news feeds.

This is where I feel Facebook has crossed the line into the land of the unethical. They wanted to see if, by manipulating these users news feeds, whether the users’ emotions would be effected. This breaches ethical guidelines for informed consent. The company’s research including this massive number of users included funneling positive posts from friends to one group and negative posts to another to see how the positive versus negative posts affected user responses. With these actions, Facebook mainly sought to manipulate people’s mood. This goes above and beyond moral and ethical codes on a corporate level, as well as a human level. What if a depressed person became more depressed? An angry person became more upset and hurt someone? This experiment is scandalous to say the least and violates accepted research ethics. Max Masnick, a researcher with a doctorate in epidemiology, quoted in the article, “I do human-subjects research every day”.

He continues to stick with his opinion that the structure of the experiment displays that there was no informed consent – a key element of any studies on humans. “As a researcher, you don’t get an ethical free pass because a user checked a box next to a link to a website’s terms of use. The researcher is responsible for making sure all participants are properly consented. In many cases, study staff will verbally go through lengthy consent forms with potential participants, point by point. Researchers will even quiz participants after presenting the informed consent information to make sure they really understand.” Arthur, C. (2014, June 30).

At minimum, Facebook needed to inform their users they were going to be manipulating their emotions and conducting an experiment. While utilizing their presence on the social media website, and their incoming interaction with other users interacting with their page, without their permission. Facebook says that the effect wasn’t large – but it was obviously large enough for the authors to publish the study in a major science journal. T he company has argued that the study was permissible because the website’s data use policy states, “we may use the information we receive about you…for internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement,” and that “we may make friend suggestions, pick stories for your News Feed or suggest people to tag in photos.” With the single word “research”, Facebook feels they have the right to conduct “research”. And experiment with our emotions without continued consent, knowledge, or education on what they will be doing or how the information they receive will be manipulated.

References

Arthur, C. (2014, June 30). Facebook emotion study breached ethical guidelines, researchers say. Retrieved June 22, 2015, from http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jun/30/facebook-emotion-study-breached-ethical-guidelines-researchers-say Blue, V. (2014, July 1). Facebook: Unethical, untrustworthy, and now downright harmful | ZDNet. Retrieved June 22, 2015, from

http://www.zdnet.com/article/facebook-unethical-untrustworthy-and-now-downright-harmful/


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