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Journal That Published Facebook Study Expresses ‘Concern’ Over Methods

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the prestigious journal in which a controversial Facebook study was published, has written an official "Editorial Expression of Concern" (PDF) regarding the methods used in the paper. Facebook's "emotional contagion" experiment tampered with users' news feeds to see whether being exposed to more positive or negative posts affected the viewer's mood. The results were significant and, as PNAS Editor-in-Chief Inder Verma acknowledges, part of "an important and emerging area of social science research."

Verma's editorial, however, took issue with the methods: Users were not expressly informed that they were part of a study, nor were they given the opportunity to opt out. This is contrary to the "Common Rule," a set of best practices when experimenting on human subjects. Facebook, Verma wrote, was "under no obligation" to conform to those rules, since it is a private company. But, Verma continued, "It is nevertheless a matter of concern that the collection of the data by Facebook may have involved practices that were not fully consistent with the principles of obtaining informed consent."

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