IU Faculty Defend Facebook Study

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July 21, 2014 — Five faculty members from Indiana University have signed on to a statement published in the journal Nature in defense of a recent Facebook research study.

“We are making this stand because the vitriolic criticism of this study could have a chilling effect on valuable research. Worse, it perpetuates the presumption that research is dangerous,” said the authors of the Nature article, led by Michelle N. Meyer, director of bioethics policy at the Union Graduate College–Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Bioethics Program in New York.

The study involved researchers from Cornell University who manipulated Facebook users’ news feeds to reduce negative or positive content in order to study whether “emotional contagion” — in which people take on the emotional states of those around them — could occur as a result of social media. The study was published June 17 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and involved 310,000 anonymous and randomly selected Facebook users.

“Finding the correct balance between individual privacy and research interests is one of the thorniest problems faced by policymakers, lawyers and ethicists. While I lean towards protecting individual privacy and wish Facebook would do more in that direction the hysteria greeting this research was unwarranted,” said Nicolas Terry, director of the Indiana University Hall Center for Law and Health at the Robert H. McKinney School of Law.

“This study got people’s attention because it showed how science, marketing and social media are now joining forces in unexpected ways. I hope Facebook and the public each learned something,” said Eric Meslin, director of the Indiana University Center for Bioethics.

Other faculty members who also signed their names in support of the study include Fred Cate, director of the Center for Law, Ethics and Applied Research in Health Information, Peter Schwartz of the IU Center for Bioethics and Ross Silverman of the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health.




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