Violet Blue for Pulp Tech, ZDNet
If there’s one thing we’ve learned from zombie movies, it’s that when the word “contagion” is associated with humans getting experimented on without their knowledge at the hands of a cold, massive corporation — things never end well.
On June 2, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks.” It made headlines last weekend, which can be succinctly described as a ‘massive scale contagion’ of fury and disgust.
In “Experimental evidence” Facebook tampered with the emotional well-being of 689,003 unknowing users to see how emotional contagion could be controlled; basically, how to spread, or avoid the spread of, its users’ feelings en masse.
Everyone except the people who worked on “Experimental evidence” agree that what Facebook did was unethical. In fact, it’s gone from toxic pit of ethical bankruptcy to unmitigated disaster in just a matter of days.
Cornell University is now distancing itself from involvement in “Experimental evidence.” Facebook appears to have been caught changing its Terms to include “research” after the work had been done. The study is now being called into question over approval-laundering by respected academics.
It’s not going to get any better when people take a look at the tool Facebook used to do its experiments — a tool so woefully wrong for the job that no one, including Facebook, will ever know what Facebook actually did to its users’ emotional health.
For all of its work thus far studying emotional contagion, Facebook has used the Linguistic Inquiry Word Count (LIWC2007) tool, though “Experimental evidence” was the first time Facebook used the tool to actively interfere with its users.