COMMENTARY| If you recently experience happy feelings when reading your Facebook news feed you were not alone. Consequently, if your mood worsened after checking out the status of your friends and liked pages, you are not alone either. According to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Facebook has managed to manipulate the mood of users simply by tinkering with the stories that appeared in their news feed.
According to AVClub.com, users of the popular social media website agreed to the process when they accepted the terms of service involved with initially signing up for the service. So from a legal standpoint, Facebook is in the clear. However, from an ethical standpoint, things are about as murky as they can get. Companies should not simply perform psychological experiments on a group of people without some form of formal consent.
The experiment was not performed on every Facebook user, only about 700,000 of them, according to The Atlantic. The size of the sample and the success rate is of no consequence, because it did work on a very small portion of the audience. The real issue is that any portion of the billion or so Facebook users is a significant amount of people, and people should be able to use social media without threat of the company behind the technology trying to make them happy or sad.
Where does it stop? That could be the more terrifying question that people should be asking. Showing pictures of unicorns and rainbows to make users happy is one thing, but what if a company took things in another direction to a more nefarious cause? Outright paranoia is probably someone’s concern, but in the end the question of what’s right and wrong has to come into play. Just because Facebook was able to make the experiment, does not in any right mean it should have tried.
Will there be a mass migration of people from Facebook? Probably not, but there should be. Any company that plays loose with the user base, like this experiment, is showing certain disrespect for the people that made it so successful in the first place. Remember, Facebook has no product and no content of its own. Everything on those pages is user created, shared, liked, and commented on. It is pretty hard to see why a company with so much reliance on users would try to take advantage of even a small percentage.