What Happened: It’s pretty widely known that Facebook collects massive amounts of consumer data and uses it to its advantage, but the social network seems to have crossed the line when it manipulated the news feeds of almost 700,000 randomly selected users as part of a psychological study to examine how emotions can spread through social media. The study, which was conducted in 2012, involved skewing the number of positive and negative posts being shown to certain users. Researchers found that moods were in fact contagious: Those seeing more positive posts in their feeds tended to write more positive posts and those inundated with negative posts were more negative.
In its defense, Facebook stated that users consent to such activities when they agree to its terms of service, and such experiments are in fact for the benefit of all those using the service since they inform Facebook about how to give users more of what they want to see. But the head of the research also issued a public apology just in case some of those 1.2 billion Facebook users aren’t comforted by the fact that Facebook is doing all of this for their own good.
What This Means for Brands: Data manipulation is old news, but this ethical violation isn’t. Almost all companies collect as much data as they can to better serve their customers, but given that users aren’t even all that happy with that violation of their privacy social media and companies need to think twice before upping the ante and actually playing mind games on users without their explicit permission.
Contributing to TRENDING items are Amanda Ayotte, Ephraim Cohen, Michelle Choi, Michelle Goodwin, Lisa Helfer, Jeff Maldonado, Stephanie O’Malley, Lauren Price and Abby Ray.