Is Facebook Wrong for Manipulating Moms and Dads in “Unethical” Science Experiment?

The Facts:

– Facebook Manipulated 689,003 Users’ Emotions for a Week for Questionable “Science” Research

– 42% of new mothers and 26% of new fathers exhibit signs of clinical depression, states a JAMA article. 

– Seven out of 10 moms have a Facebook profile and check their pages more than any other demographic.

– Research editors admit, “Facebook may have involved practices that were not fully consistent with the principles of obtaining informed consent and allowing participants to opt out.”

While the jury is out on whether Facebook’s manipulation of its user’s emotions for “science” – without their knowledge or permission – is technically a human rights violation or business as usual, there is little doubt that damage was done. If you missed the story, a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed that Facebook intentionally manipulated the news feeds of nearly 700,000 users to study “emotional contagion through social networks.” In short, the social network hid either good news or bad news from users’ feeds to see how it affected their emotions. As a Forbes article stated, “If there was a week in January 2012 where you were only seeing photos of dead dogs or incredibly cute babies, you may have been part of the study…’*Probably* nobody was driven to suicide,’ tweeted one professor linking to the study, adding a “#jokingnotjoking” hashtag.”
42% of new mothers exhibit signs of clinical depression.

New Parents Are An At-Risk Population – #notjoking.

Perhaps you didn’t notice the Nuremberg Code-bashing experiment, or maybe you are on the “business as usual” side of the ongoing and heated argument. But for a moment, imagine you are one of thousands of new American parents who, unlike their counterparts across the globe, are isolated because of the lack of a Family Leave Policy and disconnected culture and therefore an at-risk population for clinical depression. Not a slight risk either. As a 2010 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, JAMA, states, “Three to six months postpartum — 42 percent of mothers and 26 percent of fathers exhibit signs of clinical depression.” Read more on The Trauma of Parenthood, in this NYT’s article.

Now imagine being one of these at-risk parents logging onto Facebook in dire need of  human connection only to find an exclusively depressing stream of images and despondent posts from friends in a week-long science experiment you were unaware you were participating in because no one asked for your consent.  What isn’t hard to imagine is, what if that mom hanging on by her fingernails skipped making that family meal, popped a Xanax or her kid, put everyone and herself to bed early hoping for a better day only to reach out for human support the next day, and the next, for a week of high-tech engineered doom and gloom? As the privacy activist Lauren Weinstein chillingly wrote in a Twitter post, “I wonder if Facebook KILLED anyone with their emotion manipulation stunt. At their scale and with depressed people out there, it’s possible.”

How would you feel if this happened to you? Did it? How do you feel about the moms and dads you know and love being treated as guinea pigs? And more importantly, why doesn’t it occur to Facebook or its Frankenstein researchers to play out to the end their manipulative experiments on humanity to discover who is really impacted, not just the next post the Facebook mom reported for the sake of capturing advertising data? What consequences will never be quantified into Dr. Facebookenstein’s outrageous, morally and intellectually indefensible “research?”
7 out of 10 moms have a Facebook profile and check their pages more than any other demographic.

Is Facebook Unaware? 

Is it possible that Facebook didn’t realize that its emotional manipulation of news feeds could impact vulnerable families, meaning mothers and their children? Not likely. The well-cited Edison’s 2013 Moms and Media research report reveals that 7 out of 10 moms have a Facebook profile and moms check in more than any other demographic at an average of 5.1 times a day. Moms are driving force behind all forms of social media. They knew.

Is Facebook Sorry?

No. They are “sorry” you are “upset,” said CEO Sheryl Sandberg in the Wall Street Journal, but not sorry about the lack of consent for the “scientific” research. “This was part of ongoing research companies do to test different products, and that was what it was; it was poorly communicated. And for that communication we apologize. We never meant to upset you,” said Sandberg.
And what does she mean by “poorly communicated” when the details of the study are displayed in great detail in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences — whose forward now contains a note from the editor’s stating it is:
 “…a matter of concern that the collection of data by Facebook may have involved practices that were not fully consistent with the principles of obtaining informed consent and allowing participants to opt out.”

Is Facebook Evil?

Sorry to answer a question with a question, but why does it sometimes appear easier to look at the Bill Murray character, Frank Cross, from the movie Scroogedand name his actions as evil as he manipulates his television viewers with frightening imagery to make them “too terrified not to watch” the network’s Christmas show? I’d love to read your opinions below.

Why Use Facebook At All? Excellent Question.
Is there any viable reason left to use Facebook? Not really.  Like many nonprofits and small businesses over the past few years, Kindred began to rely on Facebook to help us connect with our followers: a growing segment of the population called Cultural Creatives, families exploring the possibilities of conscious living in an unconscious culture. (Yes, there is some irony in that statement.) This past year, Facebook’s desperate attempt to please its investors by killing organic reach in exchange for sponsored ads began to have a devastating effect on activists as well as small business owners. Currently, less than 1% of a page’s followers see unpaid posts and EACH post Kindred shares will now cost eighty dollars to reach the same number of followers, 16,600 (see photo). With 11 million young people already exiting Facebook and ongoing charges of fraudulent ad and LIKE campaigns, how much longer will nonprofits, small businesses and the rest of us stay?


Options: What Can We Do? 
While we can hope for a transformation of conscience like Billy Murray’s Scrooged character, we cannot install a conscience in the humanity-shilling nosferatu at Facebook. If we choose to accept the known and unknown risks of  using Facebook, or any social media network, perhaps we can do so with an intention toward developing other forms of connection with people and organizations we love.  It is clear that Facebook is no longer worth the effort or expense of the past for Kindred, so we have expanded our social reach to include a variety of ways to connect, including our Youtube video series, Tumblr and Pinterest posts, Google Plus page, Vimeo channel, Twitter feed and Sound Cloud audio interviews – all are free for subscribers and followers.  If you still want to follow Kindred on Facebook, you will need to jump through a few hoops: 


2) Hover over the LIKE button, and


You Can Also Skip Facebook Altogether and follow Kindred at one of its many other social media outlets listed at the top of this page, but most importantly, you can maintain your direct contact with us, and other worthy nonprofits, by visiting the website and sharing our e-newsletter. There’s also that old school meeting-in-person-thing you can do at the newly forming Kindred Book Clubs (email for more information).


Thankfully, Kindred and FCL existed long before social media or the internet and we will continue to exist long afterward, or at least until our mission is fulfilled!
This post was originally published on Lisa Reagan’s LinkedIn blog.  
Photos by Shutterstock


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