Playing with Your Emotions on Social Media

by emsh98 on February 9, 2017 - 5:15pm

                Ethics in the psychology discipline is typically taken seriously, especially when people do not really know what is going on during a research experiment but, in 2014, researchers from Cornell University decided to do research on the impact of human emotions on Facebook (Booth). According to “The Guardian”, 689,000 users on Facebook were manipulated by having positive and or negative feed taken away on their home page, information pages and friends that they follow (Booth).  The main problem with this experiment was that nobody knew that they were being manipulated and their moods was being monitored via Facebook (Booth). Furthermore, no one was debriefed after the study which is immoral. From a utilitarianism perspective, the issue of not debriefing in this study would be considered acceptable because the outcome of an experiment is more important than the actions. On the other hand, virtue ethics argues that this experiment was immoral because the researchers did not consider being virtuous and manipulated Facebook users without their permission.

                Utilitarianism is a framework that focuses on the outcome of an action, but not the action itself. This framework also puts an emphasis on the happiness of the individual and the community (Merril 21). This model would be suitable to defend the Facebook experiment because the researchers are focusing on the outcome of this study as opposed to the actions that were done to accomplish this experiment. Therefore, the researchers are thought it was acceptable to not make the Facebook users aware that they were a part of the experiment (Booth).

                Virtue ethics does not defend this experiment because none of the researchers who took part in this study was being virtuous. Virtue ethics does not have specific rules to follow, but it focuses on being the best person an individual can be (Merril 31). Although, the individuals who took part in this experiment did not mean to harm or freak out any Facebook users, they are still considered non-virtuous.  According to this model, the researchers did not adopt any virtuous qualities while conducting the study.  For instance, there is no evidence that the researchers considered being honest, an important virtue which should be applied in psychological research, because the motive behind the action would be more significant and would not be a vice. A solution to this problem is to notify the random sample about the experiment and to ask if they would participate in it. Being honest is not only virtuous but the Cornell University researchers would more liked by their subjects in the experiment and no one’s privacy would be invaded unknowingly.

                In the end, although utilitarianism defends the outcome for the researchers in this experiment, virtue ethics is the better model. Virtue ethics is also the most persuasive model because having virtuous qualities while conducting research is crucial. No one would be tricked and their privacy would not be invaded.  

Work cited:

Booth, Robert. “Facebook reveals news feed experiment to control emotions”. The Guardian, 30 June 2014. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jun/29/facebook-users-emotions-news-feeds

Merril, John C, “Overview: Theoretical Foundations for Media Ethics,” 3-32 in A. David Gardon, John M Kittross, John C Merrill, William Babcock, and Michael Dorsher (eds.), Controversies in Media Ethics, 3rd Edition (New York: Routledge, 2011)

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