Social Experiment: Are We All Lab Rats for Social Media
Posted at 03th of Jul, 22:07
It was discovered last week that Facebook had altered personal newsfeeds to study and prove that  “emotional contagion” happens online, not only face to face. That is, we have all had our emotions manipulated for the length of the experiment, without our consent. Well, kind of.

Anyway, If you’re not enraged, you should be.


Verge shows that the experiment was in line with Facebook’s terms of use:


When users sign up for Facebook, they agree that their information may be used 'for internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement.' While there's nothing in the policy about altering products like the News Feed, it's unlikely Facebook stepped outside the bounds of the Terms of Use in conducting the experiment. Still, for users confused by the whims of the News Feed, the experiment stands as a reminder: there may be more than just metrics determining which posts make it onto your feed.


However, this does not fall in line with America’s Code of Federal Regulations that holds that the subjects of any research must provide informed consent. Similarly, researchers must obtain the approval of an IRB, institutional review boards.


Particularly disturbing is the fact that experiments that ultimately run the risk of greatly impacting someone’s well being, are not being taken into consideration with the severity they deserve.


We all know--and have knowingly consented to-- the duplicity of Facebook and that the content we receive on our newsfeed is altered to our likes and interest. However, we were not aware of the intrusive and intentional impact Facebook can actually generate on our mental health.


Just how lethal is this? Well, a precedent has been set.


Huffington Post reports:


In a provocative forthcoming paper, Digital Market Manipulation, 82 George Washington Law Review (forthcoming 2014), Ryan Calo argues that companies "will increasingly be able to trigger irrationality or vulnerability in consumers -- leading to actual and perceived harms that challenge the limits of consumer protection law, but which regulators can scarcely ignore.


I’m not sure about you, but that just downright terrifies me. In today’s world we must meditate upon the limits and the amount of control of ourselves both on and offline. Although for many businesses this may seem like a door to financial opportunities, in reality the potential for a potentially negative backlash is far too great. Let this stand as an example that any manipulated (and consent-lacking) business strategy will put into question the trustworthiness and reputation many companies attempt to foster.

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