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Facebook’s Secret News Feed Manipulation

321537-facebook-thumbs-down-dislikeThe News:

…last week, Facebook revealed that it had manipulated the news feeds of over half a million randomly selected users to change the number of positive and negative posts they saw. It was part of a psychological study to examine how emotions can be spread on social media.

via Facebook says manipulated news feeds of randomly selected users to see how that affected the posts they wrote – Business – The Boston Globe.

The Reaction:

…it came to light that the Internet company manipulated users’ News Feeds as part of a social science experiment… the revelation tapped into a growing fear about what types of data social media companies have about their users, how data are being used, and whether there are any ethical parameters in place to protect the little guy… “People are supposed to be, under most circumstances, told that they’re going to be participants in research and then agree to it and have the option not to agree to it without penalty.”

via Facebook’s News Feed manipulation touches off firestorm – The Tell – MarketWatch.

Details and updates from the Atlantic:

…explanation of the research ethics here—the study was approved “on the grounds that Facebook apparently manipulates people’s News Feeds all the time.” And consider also that from this study alone Facebook knows at least one knob to tweak to get users to post more words on Facebook.

via Everything We Know About Facebook’s Secret Mood Manipulation Experiment – Robinson Meyer – The Atlantic.

This brings up the question, “Who owns the data?”

It is a fundamental question we are still not comfortable with. It also relates to gathering health data via Electronic Health Records. Who owns that data and is it OK to use it for research?

What makes the Facebook incident a bit more of an issue is that the researchers did not just gather data but that they manipulated the news feed of individuals without their consent.

Is it OK to gather and aggregate data from individuals without their consent in order to find a cure for a disease? In other words for the common good? Maybe.

But what if the researchers altered the treatments individuals received without telling them or getting consent. Is that OK?

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