1 July 2014
One of the great things about the internet is the way it has opened up even more avenues of communication. We can share ideas easily with people on the other side of the world and canvas the opinions of millions at the click of a few buttons.
However, as I said when the right to be forgotten ruling was announced, the internet has gone unpoliced for a long time. Users have been able to carry out certain behaviours without fear of repercussion. I think you could argue that people lose their sense of perspective, imagining the internet as a kind of pseudo reality without any real consequences.
The latest news about Facebook’s so-called “secret mood experiment” on emotional contagion brings up some of these issues. If you’ve not read about this yet, it’s the story about research carried out by the social networking site in cahoots with some American universities, using algorithms to control and filter what some users saw on their news feeds.
The goal was to find out whether the tone of posts affected people’s moods without their awareness. The theory, which turned out to be true, was that seeing a feed of emotionally negative posts causes users to post a higher than normal amount of negative comments themselves. It’s interesting, but the question here is whether Facebook was ethically wrong to withhold details of this experiment to the users it affected.
Plenty of people have spoken out against it with some users feeling like their trust had been broken and others sceptical about the power given to social media platforms. Others have shrugged off the news, suggesting that by accepting the terms and conditions before setting up a page, users have agreed to their data being used by the company. Facebook itself has said the findings will be used to improve their service.
What do you think? If other social networks were planning to carry out similar experiments, would you want to be informed? Has this news put you off using Facebook or it is simply an interesting piece of research on the ways emotions are spread? I’d love to hear your thoughts.