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Thread: Facebook mood study

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    Facebook mood study

    I was following this on Monday while in a waiting room...
    Facebook experiment upsets regulators
    It seems like the biggest concern is that Facebook used the news feeds for a single week to sway the emotions of its readers. They didn't change the news, they just provided the ones that they thought would sway someone one way or another.

    Excuse me? Hasn't the media been doing that every day for decades anyway? I think it's irresponsible to rely on one feed anyway.

    This story is the first one that I saw that expressed it as a concern over private information. But; I don't see this story as any different that the data that's all over the net anyway.

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    It's no different than targeted advertising.
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    Except the news feed on Facebook mostly consist of updates from and about people's friends, which means they manipulated people's interpersonal communications and their knowledge of others.
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    Quote Originally Posted by HenrikOlsen View Post
    Except the news feed on Facebook mostly consist of updates from and about people's friends, which means they manipulated people's interpersonal communications and their knowledge of others.
    No, they changed the content mix. That means advertising, and that things appeared in a different order for some people than for others.

    I have a few hundred friends on facebook, and I only see content from a handful of them. I don't notice when I do or don't see a friend's update. I don't know how Facebook determines what I do or don't see, but it seems to change daily.

    When you post an update to Facebook, it's like standing on the street corner and yelling. Some will hear and some won't. If you want to direct your communication at a certain person on a personal level you choose a more effective form of direct communication. Facebook is just a wall and communication there is hit-and-miss at best.
    Last edited by primummobile; 2014-Jul-02 at 06:35 PM.

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    If you set your updates to "most recent" they should be displayed in reverse chronological order. If they manipulated even that setting then that's pretty bad.

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    Quote Originally Posted by primummobile View Post
    No, they changed the content mix. That means advertising, and that things appeared in a different order for some people than for others.

    I have a few hundred friends on facebook, and I only see content from a handful of them. I don't notice when I do or don't see a friend's update. I don't know how Facebook determines what I do or don't see, but it seems to change daily.

    When you post an update to Facebook, it's like standing on the street corner and yelling. Some will hear and some won't. If you want to direct your communication at a certain person on a personal level you choose a more effective form of direct communication. Facebook is just a wall and communication there is hit-and-miss at best.
    Oh yeah. That sounds like a great idea. I try to stay away from people that stand and yell about their personal lives on street corners. Why would I want to contact them on the Internet?

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    I don't know the details (I have as little to do with facebook as possible) my concern here would be research ethics, without reading the paper it's hard to be certain if facebook crossed the line but as the linked article points out: if you are conducting research experiments on people you need to consent and debrief them properly (there *are* occasions you can get around this: where it would be impossible to get consent at all such as for trials in Emergency medicine where consenting an unconcious or dangerously wounded person may not be practical, in cases where the ability to consent is lacking and where the process of consenting might alter the outcome of the experiment but these are all very tightly controlled and in the case of the latter the real reason for the experiment needs to be revealed at the debrief and the initial consent has to be worded carefully indeed).

    The thing is a lot of these rules don't come out of nowhere, like the Nuremburg Code that states that all experiments should be designed to minimise mental and physical distress (along with such rules as [from the wikipedia link above] 'No experiment should be conducted where there is a prior reason to believe that death or disabling injury will occur; except, perhaps, in those experiments where the experimental physicians also serve as subjects.'). These rules were put in place because of significant abuses (many arising out of the WW2 concentration camps) and the ethical codes for experimenters should not be lightly brushed aside.

    Given the evidence that emotional pain travels along many of the same pathways as physical pain and Facebook seem to have been potentially playing around with that sort of thing (hard to be certain without reading the paper and the article isn't helpful on that, saying that people were 'made to feel less happy without their consent' which *could* be interpreted as 'not made as happy as they could have been' or 'were deliberately manipulated to feel sad') I would want to see decent evidence that they had at least considered the risks and whether proper informed consenting of the involved subjects was required otherwise it indicates they were playing very fast and loose with one of the biggest THOU SHALT NOTs in biomedical/psychological research.


    ETA: In fact depending on the details and how you count these things there could arguably be issues with points 1,2,4 and 9 of the Nuremburg code, 6 as well if you felt like putting the boot in...
    Last edited by Infinity Watcher; 2014-Jul-02 at 08:16 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by John Mendenhall View Post
    Oh yeah. That sounds like a great idea. I try to stay away from people that stand and yell about their personal lives on street corners. Why would I want to contact them on the Internet?
    The theory is that it is easier to stay "in the know" about acquaintances that you don't have time to visit with in real life. My point was that for personal communication, wall posts on Facebook are about as effective as yelling from a street corner.

    I use Facebook mostly to post jokes and pick on my nieces. It is also useful for maintaining a link to people you may want to contact in the future at some point.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Amber Robot View Post
    If you set your updates to "most recent" they should be displayed in reverse chronological order. If they manipulated even that setting then that's pretty bad.
    I rarely access Facebook from a computer. I usually use the mobile app on my phone or tablet. To see wall posts in reverse chronological order you must, every time, scroll all the way to the right and specifically select that option. If you don't, the app defaults to displaying the posts in some seemingly random order that doesn't make any sense. I think that's what they manipulated.

    My issue is the ethics of intentionally trying to cause people to feel certain emotions. I don't think changing the order of how things appear on the feed is a big deal. Rather, it is their reason for doing so that's a big deal.
    Last edited by primummobile; 2014-Jul-03 at 05:10 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by primummobile View Post
    My issue is the ethics of intentionally trying to cause people to feel certain emotions. I don't think changing the order of how things appear on the feed is a big deal. Rather, it is their reason for doing so that's a big deal.
    That's how I feel about many media outlets.

    At least with Facebook, it was a short study and not used to "pull you in" for profit's sake, nor was it one-sided.

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    It sounds like a kind of slimey thing to do. I'm sure it is perfectly legal, Facebook CEO said that the user agreement everyone who joins agrees to contains verbage about such experiments.

    And I'm certainly completely unsurprised, frankly it is the kind of behavior I completely expect from all the commercial Internet sites (Google, Amazon, Facebook, etc., etc.). Even among the ones I like, or at least use, I fully expect that are always trying to pull something, and squeeze another dollar, or a little more information (which is the main source of Facebook's income) out of me. I consider that all of them are predatory.

    I've always been curious as to how Facebook decides what to post on my Newsfeed. I'll get a bunch of posts from someone who I haven't seen anything from in months, and not because they haven't been posting, but for some reason Facebook decided that now was their turn. One of my guesses was that their algorithms decided that these posts would somehow get me to go to some ad or link for which Facebook was being paid. For example, if they were trying to push an ad for cat food, Facebook would suddenly stick my cousin's post about "look at these cute kittens", or if they wanted to push a car ad, I'd suddenly get a friend's post about washing his car.
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    I have seen several medical ethicists indicate that human studies require informed consent, and that "it was in the TOS" doesn't reach that level.

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    It's strange that when it's a study, that it gets all this ethics buzz. But when a news site or commercial site does something like that as a prank, it's considered funny.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dockeen View Post
    I have seen several medical ethicists indicate that human studies require informed consent, and that "it was in the TOS" doesn't reach that level.
    A very interesting point. From what I gather, this was an internal research study for Facebook. I have not heard what the point of this study was. Were they trying to alter people's mood just for the sake of altering their mood, or was it to impact their behavior (such as their purchasing behavior)?
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    The thing is, I have few enough Facebook friends--and the ones I have post seldom enough--that I actually want to just see everything that everyone has posted. In reverse chronological order. Without the same post that I ignored three days ago coming up again because someone I know commented on it today. And when I tell Facebook I don't want to see anything more that someone has shared from somewhere, I'd like to actually not see it anymore. (I have one friend who shares literally every lost pet/shelter pet that needs a home feed on the internet, as far as I can tell, and there's one I've told Facebook I don't want to see at least a dozen times.) My needs are simple, and I never bought anything off Facebook ads even when I still saw them.
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    Facebook 'knows" me based on comments and 'Likes' I receive and to whom I 'Like' and comment to, my news feeds almost always begin with family and close friends because of this. I appreciate its programming, not that I don't care about any or all other friends on Facebook, but I like the fact that it cuts to the chase to folks that I most want to keep in touch with, such as my daughter who lives all the way in Portland, OR now. If you are loved by your family and friends anything and everything you/they post is a fun way to share life events, photos and activities. It isn't negative in any way.

    Their little human behavior study didn't affect me in any way, at least not in a way that I'm aware of. . .

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    The more I hear about Facebook providing news tailored by the perceived interests, the more I think it's an overall disservice.

    Instead of getting informed about the world around you, it helps keep you isolated from the big picture.

    So; if this experiment exposed people to something outside their own little world, I'm glad.

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    Yes, Facebook is like the Queen of Faerie1, forever giving you what you want rather than what you need to grow up.


    1) Yes, reading Wee Free Men again.
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    As is so often the case, XKCD is on the money:
    http://www.xkcd.com/1390/

    As usual, be sure to read the mouse-over text.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Swift View Post
    A very interesting point. From what I gather, this was an internal research study for Facebook. I have not heard what the point of this study was. Were they trying to alter people's mood just for the sake of altering their mood, or was it to impact their behavior (such as their purchasing behavior)?
    I don't know if we have been told if there was an ultimate goal of monetization. I had thought it was intended to be an academic study Facebook did for someone. Academic studies using human subjects are held to a high level of scrutiny and rigor. This study would not have met the ethical standards for human subject studies.

    A difference between that and advertising studies might be little, or it might be a lot. Advertising is often obvious and intended only to affect purchasing behavior. The human research study didn't just intervene between a person and a corporation or their product, but intervened between individuals. It's one thing to test whether men will drink more beer if they see a happy person or a sad person promoting it. It's another thing to alter the communications you receive from your friends to see if blocking happy posts and only passing on sad posts can make people upset enough to commit suicide.

    BTW, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) just filed a lawsuit.
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    Did Facebook and PNAS violate human research protections in an unethical experiment?

    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/...al-experiment/

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    Quote Originally Posted by Nick Theodorakis View Post
    Did Facebook and PNAS violate human research protections in an unethical experiment?

    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/...al-experiment/
    The creepiest part is where Kramer basically says that he doesn't want to deal with all those pesky rules in science and would rather work in a libertarian paradise where he can have his own personal Island of Doctor Moreau. Muhahahaha! Or something to that effect.
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    That's what moonbases are for.

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    I have a question. If you are conducting a behavioral study, wouldn't informing the participants invalidate the data? People will modify their behavior if they know they are being watched. I'm not saying that makes it ethical. I'm just wondering if notification and informed consent was possible for what they were trying to accomplish.

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    Quote Originally Posted by primummobile View Post
    I have a question. If you are conducting a behavioral study, wouldn't informing the participants invalidate the data? People will modify their behavior if they know they are being watched. I'm not saying that makes it ethical. I'm just wondering if notification and informed consent was possible for what they were trying to accomplish.
    That's what an Institutional Review Board (IRB) is for, but they didn't use one. Somehow they still got published by PNAS.
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    Quote Originally Posted by megrfl View Post
    Their little human behavior study didn't affect me in any way, at least not in a way that I'm aware of. . .
    Apparently it didn't affect anybody. The effect, if any, was pretty much nonexistent.

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    Quote Originally Posted by primummobile View Post
    I have a question. If you are conducting a behavioral study, wouldn't informing the participants invalidate the data? People will modify their behavior if they know they are being watched. I'm not saying that makes it ethical. I'm just wondering if notification and informed consent was possible for what they were trying to accomplish.
    As I mentioned earlier, you'd need to go past an IRB for *any* study but yes there can be cases in which informing participants of the nature of the study could invalidate the results. If this is the case though there are established rules for how to proceed which are essentially: wording of the consent has to quite careful, there are still things you *do* need to inform people of as best you can and the participants need to be properly debriefed afterwards as to the true nature of the study. The problem here is not the nature of the experiment but that essentially the entire process of ethical review seems to have just been completely ignored as best I can tell. To this extent it's not that no harm came to the participants, but they could not have known it would not ahead of time (if you *knew* what the results would be there'd be no point doing the experiment). They were taking risks with people's health and wellbeing without their consent... an analogy would be a food company adding a new additive to say... all the shipments going to a particular city to see if it was safe without informing the populace in any way, even if it is perfectly safe in hindsight and no harm turns out to have been done it would still be horrendously unethical to do something like that since you had no way of knowing that ahead of time.

    Also yes, simply having it in the TOS may well be insufficent, my experience with medical consent is mostly UK based so it may be different in the states but actually that consent form you sign before having surgery? Does not technically constitute proof of consent, it's very good evidence for it which is why the hospitals do them, so that in the case of questions they can go back and check it and point to it as evidence but the surgeon or anaesthetist still needs to go through the form with you, make sure you understand the form and the risks inherent in the surgery and anaesthetic and answer any questions about it before you sign for it to constitute informed consent.
    Last edited by Infinity Watcher; 2014-Jul-13 at 02:20 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Infinity Watcher View Post
    As I mentioned earlier, you'd need to go past an IRB for *any* study but yes there can be cases in which informing participants of the nature of the study could invalidate the results but there are established rules for how to proceed if this is the case, essentially wording of the consent has to quite careful, there are still things you *do* need to inform people of as best you can and the participants need to be properly debriefed afterwards as to the true nature of the study, the problem here is not the nature of the experiment but that essentially the entire process of ethical review seems to have just been completely ignored as best I can tell and to this extent it's not that no harm came to the participants, but they could not have known it would not ahead of time (if you *knew* what the results would be there'd be no point doing the experiment) so they were taking risks with people's health and wellbeing without their consent... an analogy would be a food company adding a new additive to say... all the shipments going to a particular city to see if it was safe without informing the populace in any way, even if it is perfectly safe in hindsight and no harm turns out to have been done it would still be horrendously unethical to do something like that since you had no way of knowing that ahead of time.

    Also yes, simply having it in the TOS may well be insufficent, my experience with medical consent is mostly UK based so it may be different in the states but actually that consent form you sign before having surgery? Does not technically constitute proof of consent, it's very good evidence for it which is why the hospitals do them, so that in the case of questions they can go back and check it and point to it as evidence but the surgeon or anaesthetist still needs to go through the form with you, make sure you understand the form and the risks inherent in the surgery and anaesthetic and answer any questions about it before you sign for it to constitute informed consent.
    IW, that first paragraph might be easier to parse if it was more than one sentence.
    I'm a cynical optimist. I think the only way out is through, but once we get through it'll be better. Very different, but better. Howard Tayler

    It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. Charles Darwin

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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    IW, that first paragraph might be easier to parse if it was more than one sentence.
    Sorry... old habit that my english teachers spent a lot of time telling me off for. I've edited it for clarity, thanks for pointing it out. Normally I edit things before posting to fix it, but this situation obviously has me sufficently ticked off that I got sloppy.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Infinity Watcher View Post
    Also yes, simply having it in the TOS may well be insufficent...
    As I understand it, Facebook didn't even put it in the TOS until well after the fact. So it was certainly insufficient in this particular case.

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