To what ethical standards should the social network website Facebook be held accountable—when it chooses which news stories to publish to users’ News Feeds and when it conducts social science research?
As Facebook grew and expanded its offerings, among the features it added was content from businesses and news sources, which went into the same News Feed where its users saw updates from their friends. This became the front page of the “newspaper” for many of its users. In 2012, Facebook collaborated with computer scientists at Cornell University to conduct an experiment to test whether users’ moods were affected by what they saw from other users in their News Feeds, an effect known as “emotional contagion.” Since users were not aware that the experiment was being conducted, academics, journalists, and social scientists have criticized Facebook and questioned the ethical implications of its actions. This case asks students to consider what Facebook’s responsibilities are as a “primary news source” for many of its users—and whether it is unethical to test product features on users without their knowing.
Case ID: 180405