Editors’ Choice: Round-Up – Reactions to the Facebook Emotional Contagion Study

1. Facebook and Engineering the Public

by Zeynep Tufekci

There’s been a lot of brouhaha about a recent Facebook study in which Facebook altered the news feed of 689,000 of its users to see if moods were “contagious.” There has huge discussion of its ethics, and another one on its publication. There’s also the argument that the effect sizes were actually not that large (though it seems the researchers kept them small on purpose) and whether the research was well done.

…I’m struck by how this kind of power can be seen as no big deal. Large corporations exist to sell us things, and to impose their interests, and I don’t understand why we as the research/academic community should just think that’s totally fine, or resign to it as “the world we live in”. That is the key strength of independent academia: we can speak up in spite of corporate or government interests.
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2. What does the Facebook experiment teach us?

by Danah Boyd

I’m intrigued by the reaction that has unfolded around the Facebook “emotion contagion” study. (If you aren’t familiar with this, read this primer.) As others have pointed out, the practice of A/B testing content is quite common. And Facebook has a long history of experimenting on how it can influence people’s attitudes and practices, even in the realm of research. An earlier study showed that Facebook decisions could shape voters’ practices. But why is it that *this* study has sparked a firestorm?

In asking people about this, I’ve been given two dominant reasons:
People’s emotional well-being is sacred.
Research is different than marketing practices.

I don’t find either of these responses satisfying.
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3. After the Facebook Emotional Contagion Experiment: A Proposal for a Positive Path Forward

by Matthew Salganik

Now that some of the furor over the Facebook emotional contagion experiment has passed, it is time for us to decide what should happen next. The public backlash has the potential to drive a wedge between the tech industry and the social science research community. This would be a loss for everyone: tech companies, academia, and the public. In the age of big data, the interaction between social scientists and tech companies could yield a richer understanding of human behavior and new ideas about how to solve some of society’s most important problems. Given these opportunities, we must develop a framework within which this research can continue, but continue in a responsible way.
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4. Social Media as Political Control: The Facebook Study, Acxiom, & NSA

by David Golumbia

Although it didn’t break the major media until last week, around June 2 researchers led by Adam Kramer of Facebook published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) entitled “Experimental Evidence of Massive-Scale Emotional Contagion Through Social Networks.” The publication has triggered an flood of complaints and concerns: is Facebook manipulating its users routinely, as it seems to admit in its defense of its practices? Did the researchers—two of whom were at universities (Cornell and the University of California-San Francisco) during the time the actual study was conducted in 2012—get proper approval for the study from the appropriate Institutional Review Board (IRB), required of all public research institutions (and most private institutions, especially if they take Federal dollars for research projects)? Was Cornell actually involved in the relevant part of the research (as opposed to analysis of previously-collected data)? Whether or not IRB approval was required, did Facebook meet reasonable standards for “informed consent”? Do Terms of Service agreements accomplish not just the letter but the spirit of the informed consent guidelines? Could Facebook see emotion changes in its individual users? Did it properly anonymize the data? Can Facebook manipulate our moods? Was the effect it noticed even significant in the way the study claims? Is Facebook manipulating emotions to influence consumer behavior?
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5. The Facebook Emotional Manipulation Study: Sources

by James Grimmelmann

This post rolls up all of the major primary sources for the Facebook emotional manipulation study, along with selected news and commentary.
See the Full List Here

6. CFP: The Facebook Emotional Manipulation Study and the Ethics of Big Data Research – A Special Issue of Research Ethics

edited by David Hunter & Nicholas Evans

Unless you live under a stone, have no access to media or tune out whenever the word “Facebook” is mentioned you will be aware that significant ethical and regulatory concern has been raised about an interventional study carried out via Facebook to assess how people respond to more positive or negative newsfeeds. But are these controversies justified, and what are the implications for other big data projects, as well as for regulatory systems?

Research Ethics (http://www.uk.sagepub.com/journals/Journal202119) is devoting a special issue to this topic and is issuing a Call for Papers ranging in length from 1500 to 7500 words addressing one or more of the controversies or the more general issues regarding the ethics of big data research.
See Full CFP Here

This content was selected for Digital Humanities Now by Editor-in-Chief Amanda Morton based on nominations by Editors-at-Large: Victoria Ehrlich, Angela Zhou, Matthew Lincoln, Elizabeth Kelly, Stephanie Beck Cohen, Daniel Petry, Erica Ellingson Baumle, and Cinzia Pusceddu-Gangarosa