Researcher: Facebook Psychology Study Breached Ethical Guidelines

Researcher: Facebook Psychology Study Breached Ethical Guidelines

Over the weekend, the internet exploded over the fact that Facebook had conducted psychological experiments on user news feeds. While Zuckerberg's team doesn't see a problem with that it did, academic researchers seem think it breached ethical research guidelines.

James Grimmelmann, professor of law at the University of Maryland, has written an extensive blog post about the experiments. He points out that Facebook claims everything is OK because "[the study] was consistent with Facebook's Data Use Policy, to which all users agree prior to creating an account on Facebook, constituting informed consent for this research."

Since, Facebook has added that the "research was conducted for a single week in 2012 and none of the data used was associated with a specific person's Facebook account." Again, it suggests that this makes everything OK.

But Grimmelmann claims that isn't really the point. Indeed, he points out that the subjects of the experiment didn't give informed consent — and Federal law requires informed consent on such studies. Not just that, he also claims that the study harmed participants:

This... was not an observational study. It was an experimental study — indeed, a randomised controlled trial — in which participants were treated differently. We wouldn't tell patients in a drug trial that the study was harmless because only a computer would ever know whether they received the placebo. The unwitting participants in the Facebook study were told (seemingly by their friends) for a week either that the world was a dark and cheerless place or that it was a saccharine paradise. That's psychological manipulation, even when it's carried out automatically.

He concludes that "this is bad, even for Facebook... This study is a scandal because it brought Facebook's troubling practices into a realm — academia — where we still have standards of treating people with dignity and serving the common good." And there, right there, is why all the weekend's fuss over a single scientific study is entirely deserved. [Laboratorium via Guardian]

Picture: Spencer E Holtaway/Flickr


Comments

    how many individuals suffering depression where pushed to commit an act of self hard due to this facebook action without the persons giving informed consent, and having no access to professional help should they be vulnerable to such metal attacks

      It was run for only a week... I know it sounds harsh, but if someone jumped to self harm so quickly because of their Facebook wall for a week then I would be inclined to say they would have done it anyway. If they were fed happy posts on their wall, you would think that would further make them more depressed seeing how 'well-off' others are.

      It may sound a bit unethical, but I highly doubt it would have affected anyone as much as the internet is fussing about.
      We don't PAY for Facebook, we accepted an agreement upon sign-up and they haven't broken it.

        (forgive the typo's ,you get the point OC)
        fact :
        Seasonal Depression (Seasonal Effective Disorder)
        Most people with SAD start to have symptoms in September or October and feel better by April or May, so the January 2012 timeline was in fact the worst time of the year to conduct this illegal emotional manipulation study clinical trial on 689,003 Users' Emotions.

        sever common symptoms of SAD include Poor concentration or indecisiveness. For example, you may find it difficult to read, work, etc. Even simple tasks can seem difficult.
        Feelings of worthlessness, or excessive or inappropriate guilt.
        Recurrent thoughts of death. This is not usually a fear of death, more a preoccupation with death and dying. For some people, despairing thoughts such as "life's not worth living" or "I don't care if I don't wake up" are common. Sometimes these thoughts progress into thoughts about, and even plans for, suicide.

        see also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_manipulation

        "We don't PAY for Facebook, we accepted an agreement upon sign-up and they haven't broken it."
        EULA's with unreasonable clauses have been found invalid by US courts as well as the EU, you cant remove a personal right in an EULA clause, in this case the right to refuse they process,store data for the purpose of "Psychological_manipulation" in any form...etc...

        "I would be inclined to say they would have done it anyway"
        please don't just brush it aside so casually , make some tome and go and rout out some of the webs "depression" sites and read and interact with the people you find there to get a better understanding of their fears and actions from things that may or not phase you at this time of your life, you will be amazed and perhaps a little disturbed at their actions and their reasoning for instance self harming "slicers" reasons etc....

          the rabbit hope goes even deeper , so they didn't have consent in any form for 'Research' whatever they may imply....

          "Facebook Added 'Research' To User Agreement 4 Months After Emotion Manipulation Study"
          http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2014/06/30/facebook-only-got-permission-to-do-research-on-users-after-emotion-manipulation-study/

    I was going through a particularly harrowing relationship breakup when they were doing this. I relied on Facebook to help me keep in touch with friends and family. Frankly, that connection is one of the reasons I'm still alive today. I was very down - hypersensitive to everything and very much living day to day. If I'd been exposed to it, Facebook's experiment could very well have tipped me over the edge. This was a very dangerous thing to do, I would have never agreed to it.

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