Facebook: Time Waster and Now Emotion Controller 

By: Colleen Sloyan, E23 Staffer

We accept friend requests from people we want to follow online. We like pages to keep up to date on concert information, discounts, and video posts. Simply, we choose what we want to see on Facebook. However, there are still those Facebook friends that post long, depressing statuses and those friends that use Facebook as a platform to brag about their fantastic lives. Ever wonder how that is affecting us?

Facebook conducted a psychological study which researched how posts like these affect your emotions. Facebook’s research team filtered users’ timelines so that all visible posts on the timeline were either all positive or all negative.

If you’re wondering how they could manipulate timelines without consent, it seems the answer is that we actually agree to it when all Facebook users ‘sign’ a terms and agreement contract when setting up an account. The ability for Facebook to manipulate your feed for study is in their lengthy terms and agreements contract…well, it is now. After the study was completed in May 2012, Forbes reporter Kashmir Hill investigated the issue. She found that four entire months of research were conducted before Facebook added a research section to the user agreement. Facebook had been conducting research on over 700,000 users without ‘informed consent.’

Dr. Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz, a professor of Media Communication at the University of Missouri says, “Facebook has a history of making controversial decisions about handling the privacy of its users, and this Facebook experiment demonstrates yet another liberty that the company has taken with its users privacy and well-being.”

Facebook PR representatives released statements about the research explaining that the social networking site cares about the emotional well being of its users.

Personally, I thought the point of a social media site was for users to tailor their own content and conduct their mini blogs how they wished. Using location-based services and profile information to tailor advertising is one thing, but tampering with hundreds of thousands of people’s emotions is going too far. This experiment used account owners as the guinea pigs of psychological research. Facebook only monitored users’ future posts to see if the manipulation changed anyone’s emotions. They did not measure any implications of the experiment outside of the Internet world. Facebook was not looking out for the emotional well being of its users, especially when the experiment was conducted in secret.

Should Facebook, a social networking site, be held to the same ethical standards that our other media outlets are? Or is Facebook a medium in which users know what they are getting themselves into? Competition in the social media market such as Yik Yak and Twitter make this a dangerous move for Facebook. Has Facebook gone too far? Let us know by tweeting us @mutv23 and commenting on this issue.