Friday, July 04, 2014

An expression of concern about an expression of concern

There has been a big kerfluffle about Facebook conducting a mass social psychology experiment.  At heart is the issue of informed consent.  By clicking "ok" on a vaguely worded license agreement, did users really give true informed consent to participate in experiments designed to manipulate them?  The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences here.  Now, in hindsight, PNAS has published an "Expression of Concern" here about whether the study was in compliance with the Common Rule regarding informed consent by human subjects.  The PNAS editors point out that as a privately funded, for-profit corporation not taking federal funding for this work, Facebook isn't technically bound by this constraint.

This is technically correct (the best kind of correct), but doesn't this have frightening implications?  Does this mean that private companies are free to perform experiments on human subjects without asking for informed consent, so long as they don't violate obvious laws like killing people?  Seems like there must be some statutes out there about human experimentation, right?  Perhaps one of my readers knows this issue....

7 comments:

Sajid Ali said...

"Facebook was already manipulating your emotions — our emotions — and our logical lines of action. We come to know ourselves by seeing what we do, and the selves we perform through social media become important mirrors with which we glean personal reflections. The affordances of Facebook therefore affect not just emotive expressions, but reflect back to users that they are the kind of people who express positive emotions."

http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2014/07/02/newsflash-facebook-has-always-manipulated-your-emotions/

Anonymous said...

There's always a legal loophole for just about any master plan, isn't there?

Social policy evolves from seemingly random variations in people's interactions, and now social media and the internet speed up that process. God* knows what kind of grim 'experiments' will arise without even a mention in the NY Times.

*Disclaimer. I'm agnostic, god could be anything , like aliens, quantum simulations in a future world or something, not that i believe any of that

Anonymous said...

Emotional manipulation exists for all media of communication, especially when somebody has to pay for it (via advertising). If you use something like Facebook for 'free', you're inherently making yourself available to Facebook as a commodity to be used as they see fit. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

This is an interesting post on the whole FB experiment by digital technology correspondent John Naughton (UK):

http://memex.naughtons.org/archives/2014/07/06/20295

and this is the more nuanced blog that John refers to (Danah Boyd blog, NYU, US):

http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2014/07/01/facebook-experiment.html

Anonymous said...

http://xkcd.com/1390/

Igor Fridman said...

Doug, there is indeed a strong process and set of laws that govern this type of research, public OR privately funded.

Following the Tuskegee experiments (syphiliss..black men...), Congress passed the 1974 National Research Act which established the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research. They have broad powers to oversee trial management.

There is another check on this type of research: Institutional Review Boards that approve trial protocols. In privately-funded research, these are normally firms that have on their boards prominent researchers in the field. In order to function, they are usually certified by major stakeholders like NSF & NIH. Were they to approve something so illegitimate, they would lose credibility, certification, their entire business, and reputation.

arisha said...

thank you very much for your post.i read your post.i hope that you will give us very nice post.welcome arisha

odesk test answers said...

The social media has already take place of showing & analyzing the emotion. Like Facebook we can show our emotion & therefore we get a lot of emotional feedback. Thanks for your post.