Facebook’s experiment meddles with moods, and ethics

European regulators are digging into the recently uncovered news that Zuckerberg and Co. manipulated the timelines of almost 700,000 users to gauge reactions to feeds with more positive or negative posts. We might see a quick resolution to the litigious chest-beating, but the court of public opinion will draw the majority of the social media giant’s resources.

Although the adage “it’s better to ask for forgiveness, than permission,” is surely not plied onto the walls of FB’s R&D, it certainly seems to be the unspoken code. And I don’t have a problem with that.

My contention is with the “research” label the company has applied. I hardly call altering moods through exposure to positive or negative content a breakthrough. In fact, I’d call it a generic venture. The modified timelines were nothing more than Facebook flexing its muscle, and that is where I find the ethical misstep.

Research is a facet of successful social networking platforms, a fact that won’t change. If Facebook’s data labs had followed research protocols, beginning with an analysis of the benefits, surely ethical standards would’ve had a fighting chance. But a pocket of “researchers” embarked on an unchaperoned campaign, and now executives are cleaning up the mess.

In any case, I’m sure other social networks are crawling into the shadows and hoping investigators of Facebook’s experiment don’t come knocking on the doors of their research departments.

Apologies will continue to flow, and vows against returning to the platform will be made, but I guarantee the citizens of Farmville will flock back to Facebook when their crops are ripe for harvesting. If only Facebook’s execs offered that much oversight.

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 Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at 

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