In the 1930s my dad, the psychiatrist J.L. Moreno, first developed social network analysis (a story I tell in my forthcoming book, Impromptu Man), he called it the sociology “of, by, and for the people.”
That wasn’t exactly the lesson learned when Facebook decided to conduct a study of the way its users’ moods were affected by more positive and more negative newsfeeds in 2012.
The social scientists associated with the Facebook study must not have counted on all the negative newsfeeds about their experiment that have popped up all over the web and focused the attention of just about every business news organization. Critics noted that the 2012 study of “emotional contagion” manipulated the positive and negative newsfeeds seen by 700,000 Facebook users and their assessed their responses without their specific consent (beyond the generic Facebook agreement). This was in effect a social psychological deception study that should have been reviewed like any other experiment; several academics were part of the research and it was published in an academic journal. The privacy and anonymity of the non-voluntary subjects is also an issue. The possibility that some Facebook-obsessives could have been harmed by the study would have been considered in any competent ethics review.