99 Days and Counting

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If you read a news feed other than Facebook, you might have heard that Facebook intentionally manipulated the emotional content of nearly 700,000 users for a week back in January 2012. They wanted to see what the psychological impact would be by substituting negative news for positive news and vice-versa. In essence, they conducted a research experiment that willfully and intentionally caused changes in users’ psychological status. Facebook claims that by using its site, you agree to specific terms and conditions – one of which is using your data for research.

In my opinion, they stretched that agreement so much that it raises serious ethical questions. I spent over 13 years of my career in biopharmaceuticals. We hired outside agencies and universities to conduct clinical trials for us. We always had an institutional review board (IRB) to review our experimental designs. Everything we did required written consent from study subjects. According to James Grimmelmann (University of Maryland, Professor of Technology and Law) stated,

If you are exposing people to something that causes changes in psychological status, that’s experimentation. This is the kind of thing that would require informed consent. Even the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agrees that adherence to the principles of good clinical practices (GCPs), including adequate human subject protection (HSP) is universally recognized as a critical requirement to the conduct of research involving human subjects. Where was the oversight at Facebook? Back to the 99 days and counting… I logged out of Facebook this morning and am going to make every effort not to get sucked back into that vortex. I still have contractual commitments to manage client pages, but beyond that – I’m out! If all goes well, I’ll have an extra 33 hours to do something a bit more worthwhile!