National Edition

In light of experiments, will society unfriend Facebook?

Published: Thursday, July 3 2014 7:30 a.m. MDT

In this June 11, 2014 photo, a man walks past a Facebook sign in an office on the Facebook campus in Menlo Park, Calif. British data protection authorities said Wednesday, July 2, that it is investigating revelations that Facebook conducted a psychological experiment on its users.

Jeff Chiu, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

Facebook is facing backlash in the media this week after the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published findings revealing that the site allowed social scientists to experiment on users without consent.

Basically, Facebook allowed social scientists to adjust the site to change the kind of information and updates about 700,000 users saw in 2012, including liking fewer or more baby photos and only negative or positive updates.

The premise sounds complicated, but results are easy to grasp: By changing the kind of content Facebook users were exposed to in their feeds, their emotions were altered. Facebook is unapologetic about its actions, sparking articles from Slate, The New York Times and The Washington Post calling out the ethics of the study's methodology and lack of subject consent.

The lack of consent stunned many online, like NPR reporter Linda Holmes.

"Even assuming it's legal, though, and ethical, I speak here as a Facebook user and straight from the heart: It's gross," Holmes wrote. "There's every chance that somebody went for a quick dose of distraction because of a breakup or a job loss or a death or a simple setback and didn't get it, because it was denied to them on purpose, just to see what would happen."

TechCrunch's Alex Wilhelm called the experiment cruel.

"Adding extraneous, unneeded emotional strain to a person of good mental health is an unkindness," Wilhelm wrote. "Doing so to a person who needs encouragement and support is cruel."

Rebecca Cusey, writing for The Federalist, said Facebook's "creepiness" revealed in the paper was exactly what led her to leave the network two years ago — which she dared readers to consider.

"The relationship started out with the euphoria of new love, but over the years turned to something resembling abuse. It felt more like a creepy uncle or a used car salesman," Cusey wrote of why she left. "We should ask ourselves one question: Do we get enough out of Facebook to make the abuse worthwhile?"

Email: chjohnson@deseretnews.com

Twitter: ChandraMJohnson

Must read:

Teenagers unfriend Facebook as it ages

Why Facebook's new feature is creepy, and what that means for Facebook

Why Facebook has been experimenting on you behind your back

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS