Facebook has become embroiled in another privacy scandal after it went public about a weird experiment it conducted on its users.

Without seeking permission, it revealed that it manipulated the content seen by more than 600,000 users to see how it would affect their emotional state.

It published a paper entitled “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks,” which shows how Facebook data scientists tweaked the algorithm that determines which posts appear on users’ news feeds.

The research was published in The Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences.

It skewed the number of positive or negative terms seen by randomly selected users.

The social media site then analyzed the future postings of those users over the course of a week to see if people responded with increased positivity or negativity of their own.

This experiment was able to be conducted via Facebook’s famous implied consent meaning that when users sign up to the social media site, they must click a box saying they agree to the Facebook Data Use Policy, giving the company the right to access and use the information posted on the site.

As part of its terms and conditions, the social giant stipulated that it can use that data in whatever way it likes.

The study’s authors author’s claim that they stayed within the terms set out by the social media giant.

There may be some who will view this study and think: “So what?”

However, not only does this latest charade represent yet another unwelcome intrusion into people’s private posts – and lives, it also represents a gross manipulation of people’s emotions.

Afterall, when was the last time anyone when read the terms and conditions of use, all set out in small print? And when they did, did anyone actually envisage being experimented upon in this manner? I’d wager not.

So are we talking about informed consent?

Then there is the issue of emotionally fragile people or even children who rely on social networks for support and to connect with others. Although the experiment would not have prevented that, if this study actually made people with diagnosed mental health conditions feel worse, then that is incredibly irresponsible.

The sheer number of people involved in the experiment will have made this scenario impossible to avoid. Although many Facebook users are undoubtedly aware that the social media giant uses filtering based on advertising and preference based algorithms, few expect it to manipulate emotion for a scientific experiment.

Of course, many newspapers and agencies manipulate users emotions for their own ends. However, when people log onto Facebook, the posts they are reading largely come from their own friends. And the fact of the matter is that you’re more influenced by things friends post than you are by things you hear from a comparatively faceless news outlet.

Then you have those who argue that other social networking sites are similar. So far there is no evidence that other social networks have done so to the same extent.

But more importantly, it is dangerous to get used to the idea that big companies will act like this and there’s nothing we can do about it, so that somehow makes it inevitable.

Therefore, this latest experiment represents a very slippery slope indeed.

So what is the solution to all of this espionage? Afterall, Facebook is a medium used by millions across the world – and indeed, you may have read this very blog via the Akashic Times Facebook page.

The answer to this is that the savvy user is left with just two options. One is to simply stop engaging with the social media site. However, for many that may not be possible. The other is to massively increase your awareness of the issues and privacy intrusions that will inevitably result from using the social site and modify your online habits accordingly.

Whatever path one chooses to take, one thing is clear: the CIA-monitored social media site – known for its alarming lack of privacy concerns – shows no sign of addressing these issues soon.

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