Therapy Student

Tag: Facebook Experiment

Cornell University Response to “Facebook Experiment”

After several hours of furiously writing an angry e-mail Cornell University, I received a reply.

I am not necessarily satisfied by the response but the institution, at this point, is doing damage control. They recognize that their involvement in this matter was detrimental to its long-held traditions and the utmost importance placed on human rights by various national and international organizations. In the end, I do not think that this conversation is over. It is just the beginning to a public relations nightmare.

Cornell University Logo

CORNELL UNIVERSITY MEDIA RELATIONS OFFICE

FOR RELEASE:  June 30, 2014

Media statement on Cornell University’s role in Facebook ‘emotional contagion’ research

ITHACA, N.Y. – Cornell University Professor of Communication and Information Science Jeffrey Hancock and Jamie Guillory, a Cornell doctoral student at the time (now at University of California San Francisco) analyzed results from previously conducted research by Facebook into emotional contagion among its users. Professor Hancock and Dr. Guillory did not participate in data collection and did not have access to user data. Their work was limited to initial discussions, analyzing the research results and working with colleagues from Facebook to prepare the peer-reviewed paper “Experimental Evidence of Massive-Scale Emotional Contagion through Social Networks,” published online June 2 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science-Social Science.

Because the research was conducted independently by Facebook and Professor Hancock had access only to results – and not to any data at any time – Cornell University’s Institutional Review Board concluded that he was not directly engaged in human research and that no review by the Cornell Human Research Protection Program was required.

Cornell University has television, ISDN and dedicated Skype/Google+ Hangout studios available for media interviews.

Experimental Evidence of Massive Scale Emotional Contagion through Social Networks

The act of social science research with human subjects has long been a controversy for justifiable reasons. As history has shown in the Stanford Prison Experiment (Zimbardo, 1971), the lack of protection for individuals has an adverse effect on their mental health. While the recent research study, entitled Experimental Evidence of Massive Scale Emotional Contagion through Social Networks, is important and provides insight into the role of social media on behavior, it does not follow national and international ethics on research with human subjects. This can have a cataclysmic impact on the socioemotional health of individuals unaware of their participation.

While Facebook, Inc. and Mr. Kramer do not have an institutional (i.e., institution of higher education) affiliation, they are nonetheless bound by federal regulations on human subjects research. Specifically, they are bound as “any research involving the collection of existing data, documents, records, pathological specimens, or diagnostic specimens, if these sources are publicly available or if the information is recorded by the investigator in such a manner that subjects cannot be identified, directly or through identifiers to the subjects” (NIH). The co-investigators, Jamie Guillroy and Jeffrey Hancock, on the other hand, have institutional affiliations. As such, they are bound by federal regulations to “demonstrate that projects which are conducted by or subject to the approval of department or agency heads.”

According to the Federal Code of Regulations on Public Welfare, institutions must “prepare, and maintain adequate documentation of IRB activities,” “copies of all research proposals reviewed, scientific evaluations, if any, that accompany the proposals, approved sample consent documents, progress reports submitted by investigators, and reports of injuries to subjects,” and “copies of all correspondence between the IRB and the investigators.”

Besides the argument that blind data collection was justified, the investigators blatantly ignored the subsection on the general requirements for informed consent. That is, no investigator may involve a human being as a subject in research covered by this policy unless the investigator has obtained the legally effective informed consent of the subject or the subject’s legally authorized representative.”

There is no doubt that Facebook, Inc. has overstepped its boundaries and opened the door to future unethical research with human participants. In order to prevent the reoccurrence of such careless and tragic research in the future, the public must be made aware of their rights. I have contacted Mr. Kramer and each institution separately requesting copies of all records related to the aforementioned study.

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