Ethics…its a thing

Ethics as defined by the oxford dictionary are “moral principals that govern a person’s behaviour or the conducting of an activity” in simple terms it is what we think of as ‘rules’ we use to distinguish between what is right and wrong, what is acceptable behaviour and what is not. When it comes to research and media practices it is absolutely vital that a code of ethics is followed through every step of the process and by all those involved.

When conducting media research those responsible are to follow strict guidelines and principals that are to help ensure the researchers are doing the right thing, some of these principals include; ensuring participation is voluntary, avoids any deceptive actions, informs participants of all necessary aspects of the research, does not fabricate information or discloses any participant personal information or data to the public without prior consent. Any unethical behaviour could cause damage not only to the participants but also to the company and researchers involved, this is shown in the reading Facebook puts ethics of research by private companies in spotlight.

Facebook’s emotional manipulation study published in the Proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences caused an international outrage raising multiple questions regarding the way such research was done and the ethics of the research conducted by private companies. While conducting their research Facebook studies thousand of users without their consent.

Conducting any research without the consent of the supposed ‘participants’ is without a doubt unethical and not only did Facebook mess up in the case they further dug themselves into the ground by later denying their error and attempting to argue that the research was done within the data use policies all users agree to upon signing up to Facebook. This was later discovered to be a lie as the clauses concerning the use of personal data in research was added to their policy agreement four months after the experiment had taken place proving that no consent was authorised for the use of personal information.

Not only was the public outraged for their use of information without consent but also due to the nature of the research topic being ‘emotional manipulation’ they were concerned about what information was being used and how they were gathering data from the users. The article ‘Facebook puts ethics of research by private companies in spotlight’ states that 6.7% of Americans suffer from depression meaning around 46,000 users of the research basis may have been suffering depression at the time. With that in mind any alterations and manipulations of their Facebook feed could impact them emotionally in a negative manner causing harm to the ‘participants’.

Ethics are not to be put in place for the protection of the participants but also for that of the organization/ researcher as to refrain from being the cause of any such damage that may later tarnish their reputation and findings.

As stated in David Hunters article Cases such as these often raise the question of whether all research conducted whether by public companies or private, are to be regulated and watched over closely in order to ensure participants are treated fairly and respected within their rights and all research conducted is within the ethical guidelines they are expected to follow.

McCutcheon, M 2015, ‘ BCM210 Lecture 3 Research ethics’, lecture notes, BCM210, UOW, viewed 3 April 2015,
<https://moodle.uowplatform.edu.au/course/view.php?id=5203>

Hunter, D. 4th July 2014. ‘Facebook puts ethics of research by private companies in spotlight’, The Conversation,viewed 10th April 2015,
<http://theconversation.com/facebook-puts-ethics-of-research-by-private-companies-in-spotlight-28798>

Adam D. I. Kramer. 25th March 2014, ‘Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks’ viewed 10th April 2015,
<http://www.pnas.org/content/111/24/8788.full>

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