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    Entries in Facebook (2)


    Ethics (or lack thereof) and the Recent Facebook Study

    The recent facebook emotion study has me thinking.  I am a research psychologist and I have quite a bit of experience in ethics guidelines.  I was the chair of the Research Ethics Board (REB) at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College of Memorial University for 6 years and the chair of the REB here at Algoma University for 2.  I co wrote the ethical guidelines for Memorial University (the largest English university east of Montreal in Canada) and had a similar position here at Algoma (the smallest university in Ontario, for those of you who are scoring at home).

    The study itself manipulated the news feeds of users to see if it would change their emotional states.  The researchers then counted the number of happy and sad words that the users posted.  There was a small but statistically significant effect.  OK, let me start by saying this, the work itself is quite clever.  Indeed, I have been involved in similar work.  An honours student of mine and I changed the interactions people had while playing Doom.  Rob Rawn, the student and lead author on the paper, either mocked people (and even dropped a few F bombs) over a headset while playing either co op or free for all deathmatch with the subjects or said nice things like ‘good shot’ or ‘you’ll get him next time’.  (The funny thing is here that Rob is a super nice guy, and felt bad about being mean to people).  Anyway, it turned out that there was no real effect on aggression in the players.  

    When Rob did his thesis he had to submit an ethics protocol to the psychology department.  The department, acting under the policy for research with human subjects at Algoma University, approved the project (with the permission of the Algoma University REB).  Subjects signed a consent form that noted that they were free to withdraw from the experiment at any time.  They were told they were in a study about aggression in gaming, and that they were going to play a violent video game.  They knew this in advance.  Afterwards they were thoroughly debriefed.  Rob even apologized to people if memory serves.  They were then told that if they wanted the results of the study they could come to the annual psychology honours thesis conference.  They were given my phone number and email address if they had any questions. 

    Now, let’s look at the facebook study.

    This was done by a corporation who wanted to look at emotion on their website.  Fine.  The data were then picked up by researchers at a University who published the work.  Apparently the REBs at the institutions in question considered these data to be archival, so no problem.

    I disagree.  The subjects in the study did not sign up to have their emotions manipulated.  So, no informed consent.  The subjects in the study could not withdraw at any time, because they had no idea they were in the study (again, no informed consent).  The subjects were not debriefed.

    I think the REB dropped the ball here, and I think the journal did as well.

    (Oh, and I used 'subjects' rather than 'participants' because this is my blog and 'subjects' is a fine word......)


    Changing Your Facebook Status Will Change The World (In Case You Can't Tell, I Am Being Sarcastic....)

    Red, Black, White, Plaid

    Remember that from a few years back?  Or was it just yesterday, the damned internet somehow distorts time or something….  Anyway, you remember though right?   It turned out to be some  sort of ‘meme’ (fuck I hate the misuse of a term invented by Richard Dawkins, but I digress) that was supposed to ‘raise awareness’ of breast cancer.  Raise awareness.  I can think of at least two friends off of the top of my head who have had breast cancer.  One of them is dealing with it right now.  I imagine most of us know about the existence of breast cancer.  But no, we need to ‘raise awareness’.  No, I am sorry, we do not.  This sort of bullshit slacktivism makes me want to set fire to every little ribbon worn for every cause ever. (On a side note, the first time I saw this run of colours on a status I thought it was a reference to Babylon 5, man I am a geek....)

    Oh but Dave it does no harm.  Bullshit.  This sort of crap makes people think they are doing something when they are doing fuck all.  So, they then, I would argue, think they have contributed somehow.  So, instead of actually contributing to charities, or volunteering their time, they just change their facebook status.

    Now, there are legitimate cases where ‘raising awareness’ is actually sensible.  Like putting up a poster for something with actual information.   If you know me you know I wear a cause bracelet.  It is for the Brain Tumor Foundation of Canada.  I lost my Dad to brain cancer a few years ago.  I give money to the brain tumor foundation.  When people ask me what the bracelet is for I tell them about brain cancer, about my Dad, and about how to donate.  It is also a way for me to honour the memory of my father.

    Don’t even get me started on ‘for every share of this picture, facebook will donate a dollar to cause x y or z’.  Are you people morons?  Do the math.  (I never said there would be no math).  There are 800 000 000 people on facebook.  Let’s say something actually was shared by 1 percent of fb users.  That would put whoever is supposedly donating, on the hook for 8 million dollars.   Snopes is your friend, use it.

    Get out there, give money or time to charities.  The aforementioned Brain Tumor Foundation, the Red Cross and Amnesty International are my three favourites, and they get money from me every year.  But don’t change your facebook status and think you have made a difference.  All you have done is clutter up everyone’s timeline.