Facebook Study Blurs Ethical Guidelines

Facebook has published a study which Internet Psychologist Graham Jones believes was potentially unethical.

The research involved deliberately altering the emotional content of the timelines of almost 700,000 users of Facebook without their knowledge that this was being done. The research is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The participants in the study did not know that their timelines were being manipulated to alter its emotional content value.

According to Graham Jones this is borderline unethical. He said: “All research should get the informed consent of participants in advance of the study being undertaken. Whilst there are some exceptions to this, such as the results being significantly altered if people knew about the study in advance, it is considered good ethical practice to find ways around such limitations and allow participants to know about the research before being asked to take part.”

He added: “Even if you cannot inform people in advance, you should let them know once the study is completed so that they can decide whether data about them is included in the analysis. Some people may want such data destroyed and not used and they should be given this opportunity if you have not been able to get their prior informed consent to take part.”

Graham Jones also said: “The researchers appear to have treated this as data about words, rather than taking into account the psychological impact of what they were doing. The manipulation of timelines to provide either a more positive or more negative emotional experience for the users could well have had an impact upon them.”

There is some evidence of a link between social media use and low mood in some studies, said Graham Jones, which means that anyone manipulating social media timeliness needs to be especially careful.

“I do not think enough care and attention to the participants in this study was given,” said Graham Jones.

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