Is Facebook Manipulating Users without Their Knowledge?

By on July 10, 2014

According to a paper published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Facebook conducted a study of “emotional contagion through social networks” by intentionally manipulating the news feeds of around 700,000 users.

Facebook collaborated with Cornell and the University of California–San Francisco to determine if reducing the number of positive messages people read resulted in those people being less likely to post positive content themselves and whether receiving less negative messages would cause users to post less negative content.  The research team altered Facebook’s post sweeping algorithm to facilitate the study.

“If you are exposing people to something that causes changes in psychological status, that’s experimentation,” says James Grimmelmann, a professor of technology and the law at the University of Maryland.  “This is the kind of thing that would require informed consent.”

The only reference to user informed consent was Facebook’s statement that the research “was consistent with Facebook’s Data Use Policy, to which all users agree prior to creating an account on Facebook, constituting informed consent for this research.”

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