Last week was abuzz with discussions of the ethical issues surrounding an emotional contagion study recently published by researchers led by a team at Facebook. In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a paper was published entitled, “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks.” It explained that Facebook intentionally subjected nearly 689,003 Facebook users to manipulation of their feeds. Lead researchers on the team were Kramera, Guillory and Hancock from the Core Data Science Team from Facebook, who worked in conjunction with the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, University of California and Departments of Communication and Information Science at Cornell University.
In the words of the report:
In an experiment with people who use Facebook, we test whether emotional contagion occurs outside of in-person interaction between individuals by reducing the amount of emotional content in the News Feed. When positive expressions were reduced, people produced fewer positive posts and more negative posts; when negative expressions were reduced, the opposite pattern occurred. These results indicate that emotions expressed by others on Facebook influence our own emotions, constituting experimental evidence for massive-scale contagion via social networks. This work also suggests that, in contrast to prevailing assumptions, in-person interaction and non- verbal cues are not strictly necessary for emotional contagion, and that the observation of others’ positive experiences constitutes a positive experience for people.
Ever since, headlines around the globe were astir with the news, and included outright accusations. Note this one from ZDNet: Facebook: Unethical, untrustworthy, and now downright harmful.
What are your thoughts about altering social media participation in the name of research?