Facebook is currently getting a lot of heat. Why? It was recently announced that in 2012, Facebook conducted a study on 700,000 of their users in order to test their emotional reactions. Facebook did this by altering the posts that showed up in users’ newsfeeds and seeing what affect this had on how the users felt. For example, users’ moods would be altered depending on whether their news feed highlighted good and happy content or negative and sad content. The test was done by a Facebook data scientist and his two colleagues and was published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Since this story was released, it has been debated across all of the major networks about whether this study was ethical or, for that matter, legal. On one hand, people are saying that this test was completely unethical since Facebook did not have the users’ consent. On the flip side, others argue that Facebook had the right to conduct this research because of their Data Use Policy.
However, a key point in this argument is that although Facebook includes that the users’ information may be used for “internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement,” this language was only added recently and was not included it its policy in 2012 when the actual study was conducted.
In addition to this study being an ethical dilemma, it also relates to a much larger conflict concerning the use and privacy of data. We have all heard about Big Data and security risks that have arisen due to the increased amount of data that people have access to. Most Facebook users are aware that when they post anything on Facebook, they are already giving up some of their privacy by releasing this information online. However, I think it’s fair to say that Facebook users should be notified when this information is being used for anything other than what they agreed to.
In my opinion, I think that fear is underlying this entire scandal. This research provides evidence for just how powerful Facebook is and it also brings to light the possibility that other networks could be doing the same exact thing without users knowing. If people learn anything from this article, I hope it is to become more aware of how much they are being influenced by Facebook and other social networks and to learn how they can work towards preventing this potential misuse of power.