Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Infamous Facebook Experiment

I don't have a facebook account and the more I'm hearing about this "social network" the more glad I am that I don't.

I'm sure most of you have heard of  the so-called experiment run by a facebook researcher and some academic researchers (from U. Cal. and Cornell) in January 2012. they wanted to see if manipulating news feeds to some users altered their moods.  A follow-up article also discussed reaction and facebook's "defense."  Get this: the National Academy of Sciences who published the study is supposedly investigating if the experiment had even had an ethical review.

Most objections to the study center around the question of whether users had given informed consent, which is supposedly required by ethical guidelines.  Consider the fact that: facebook updated its data use policy to reflect "research" - months AFTER the infamous social contagion study.

While not the worst experiment ever done, I believe it was totally unethical.  There was at least one commenter at The Guardian who was concerned that some  already sad facebook user could have been emotionally manipulated into some potential act of self-harm.  Was there ANY thought given to any "unintended consequences" of this research?

 I contacted the National Academy of Sciences but have yet to receive a response.  I contacted Mr. John Lohse, Director of Investigations at Univ. Cal. and received a response!  He thanked me for bringing this up and indicated it had also otherwise been brought to his attention. He indicated there would be a review and possible determination of some action.

I also received a reply from the Director of the Institutional Review Board of Cornell.  He pointed me to this statement on their website.  I couldn't believe what I was reading.  If you haven't so far clicked on the link, please do so and read the statement.  Read the last paragraph a second time.  It indicates no review by the team overseeing human research is necessary.  Are they kidding?  I wrote back to the Director and told him I felt there should be some review of how any Cornell researcher got involved with such questionable research in the first place!

Unfortunately, unethical experiments have taken place in the past.  Although this may not be the most egregious one, it has come to light and we need to shame those involved.  We need to advocate for better reviews and more stricter adherence to ethical guidelines to prevent future abuses.  We have to look out for reach other!

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