June 28, 2014- A few short months ago, the social media site Facebook conducted an experiment on its users. The company was trying to determine if the consumer’s mood could be swayed by the posts they read on their news feed; the only problem was they tried doing so without the users consent. Facebook intentionally “tweaked” over 700,000 users news feeds to either show only happy or sad posts, then track how the user posted that day.
After concluding the experiment, Facebook determined that by filtering a user’s news feed they could influence the mood of the user. This proved that the experiment had negative effects on the users, unknown to them. By doing this it goes against the laws, regulations and ethical standards of focus groups and experimental research. This raises a lot of questions as to how ethical an experiment like this could be. In Facebooks user agreement form they state that “in addition to helping people see and find things that you do and share, we may use the information we receive about you … for internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement.”. In the agreement it states that Facebook holds the right to use any data they collect to conduct research, but should it be legal for the company to decide what shows up on the users news feed? Facebook determined that by including the previous lines in their user agreement it would count as an informed consent and allowed for them to use any information posted on the site in whatever form they see fit.
Many feel that Facebook failed to show transparency to their key publics and that by doing this it would decrease popularity on the site. From the perspective of a PR professional, was it ethical for Facebook to handle their study in this manner? If you were a PR professional working for Facebook, how would you handle this situation when questioned by the media?
Click here for more information: