Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Psychological experiment by Facebook

It is revealed that Facebook have performed a huge social experiment. Its purpose was to examine the influence of news feeds upon the emotion of users.

Facebook controlled secretly the news feeds sent to the users. After that, it counted the words of emotions submitted by the users. As a result, more positive words were submitted by those in whose feeds the news with negative emotion had been gotten rid of. In contrast, after eliminating the news with positive emotion intentionally, negative comments were increased in those feeds.

Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks

This gigantic research was performed in 2012. According to this article, the existence of emotional contagion in social networks as well as real world was proven.

This is a great result. However, is it ethical to involve massive users in a psychological experiment?

In general, there are strict regulations to conduct a study dealing with human participants. An ethics committee investigates the whole procedure of the study before starting the experiment. Getting informed consent from each participant in advance is also necessary. Studies which do not adhere these conditions are to be rejected in almost all academic organizations. Famous academic journals do not accept any research which is deemed not to be ethical.

Adam Kremer, the first author of this paper explained the purpose of this study. As he wrote, the goal is to know how to provide better service. According to his statement, it was only a survey of customers and users had agreed with the policy that Facebook has right to perform such examinations.

However, I think that his claim is not so persuasive. If it is only an experimental modification in Facebook, they needed not to publish the results. It is not sure that a comprehensive consent can justify all research among the participants.

It is not surprising that argument rose around the morality of this research.

RT Facebook apologizes after secret psychological experiments caused outrage among users

The Atlantic: Even the Editor of Facebook's Mood Study Thought It Was Creepy

On the other hand, I was surprised that such a big study was performed quite easily. The other days, this kind of study was conducted manually with great efforts by researchers and students of psychology. I am afraid that they will lose their jobs in the near future.

It is simple to criticize them as unethical. But we have to consider about the standard and performance of social experiment in this coming era.

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