Facebook Social Experiments Will Make You Feel Moody
Before logging into the happening world of social networking, especially Facebook, it is very essential that you know that social networks can alter your mood.
In other words, someone else’s happiness or depression can easily become yours through social media usage. And how we know this to be true: A recent research study made public by the social networking site Facebook came up with this conclusion by holding a large-scale social experiment involving the website’s members.
Per the experiment, Facebook turned 689, 000 users into lab rats for seven days by playing around with their news feeds a bit to see how it influenced their moods.
The paper, published in PNAS, mentioned that the social networking site used software to identify positive and negative words used in different statuses, thus forming two distinct mood categories depending on the kind of words used by members.
The group of researchers then flooded the subjects’ news feeds with positive and negative posts to see how they influenced the moods of different users. By the time the experiment concluded, the company’s researchers had proved that emotions are contagious even when direct contact is not involved. The study further proved that moods can be altered via social media when a person reads certain kinds of words on his/her computer screen.
The target audiences that were subjected to positive status updates were more likely to post happy statuses of their own, and the same trend was also witnessed with people receiving negativity on their news feeds.
Debate about Privacy and Security on Social Networks
This social networking experiment was carried out back in January 2012 and the results were made public soon afterwards. Many Facebook users voiced their concern over this issue by saying that their privacy was shamelessly invaded and their security in the virtual world had been undermined.
Later, Facebook claimed that its research team only used machines for the entire process and that none of the study group members were allowed to see other people’s post themselves.
The social networking site also claims that the process was completely legal because a person agreed to these kinds of things by accepting the website’s terms and conditions when joining the forum.
Why Facebook Played around with Users’ Emotions
The question “Why did Facebook feel so compelled to experiment with the emotions of its users?” has been asked over and over again by the general public.
The study’s co-author Adam Kramer answered by saying that the company was worried that people would stop using the social networking website if they were exposed to too many emotional updates because too much negativity could scare people off, while too much positivity would make them feel left out.
Online Privacy, Security, and Ethics
When it comes to guarding the privacy and security of Facebook users, critics argue that Facebook should have shown the decency to at least tell the participants that they were being made a part of an experiment that could meddle a bit with their online privacy and overall security. This would have given many people the chance to opt out of the study well in advance.
On the other hand, Facebook assumed that it had the permission of its users to conduct experiments because of a basic “research” clause in its data use policy. Even then, the company could only do so to improve their product and not publish academic papers.
Critics believe that this lack of informed consent could have adverse effects on the online privacy and security of individuals that could lead towards psychological problems in the future, if and when the experimentation becomes more aggressive.
The Right Way to Handle Research
Since the study made an attempt to exploit the different mood patterns of people, the research fell under “human subject research”, which consists of investigation to develop generalized knowledge/data about individuals through intervention.
The kind of study that Facebook undertook should have been carried out per specific ethical code and procedures, one of it being the US Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects which requires all federally funded research to be reviewed by the Institutional Review Board (IRB).
The IRB ensures that the risks for participants are kept at a minimum after the subjects have submitted in writing their informed consent to participate in the above mentioned program.
Instead of shamelessly meddling with the news feed and thus emotions of Facebook users, the social networking site can do itself a great service by at least seeking the informed consent of the people undergoing social experiments.
The debate about enjoying privacy on the social media without the fear of being manipulated by network administrators has taken a new turn and opinion about this particular problem is building up on both sides of the divide. There is no debate about it that Facebook crossed the imaginary social boundaries that provide every one of us with some kind of a breathing space and the company has to be careful in the future so as not to upset its users.