Ethics, Facebook, and Medium


Ghostbusters ExperimentI recently published an article on Medium on The Tech World’s Ethical Crisis. I wanted to try Medium out as a possible option for my broader topics, allowing the Word to stay a touch more focused on the industry and truly random acts of writing. It seems to have worked fairly well so it is something I will repeat.

I do want to take a moment to share why I wrote the article (which you should read before reading further). I have been reading about Facebook’s study and I saw a lot of mixed reactions. While some people were aghast, others wondered why it was a big deal at all.

That is the issue at stake here, ignorance. When unethical behavior is not recognized as such, we need to take a step back and evaluate what we hold dear in our society. When conducting human research, informed consent is such an important requirement that there are laws to enforce it. If research has a chance to cause potential harm, people need to be given a chance to say no.

I don’t believe Facebook was trying to be evil. They were ignorant of the ethics involved in what they were doing. That ignorance is a problem. They must have considered it a potential problem as they added research to the Terms of Service a few months later.

Ignorance is not an excuse and we need to start thinking about teaching people more about ethics. It has been suggested that the Venture Capitalists (VCs) should make sure that the firms they fund have training in ethics.

They should throw in a little training about sexual harassment and discrimination while you are at it.

We are all responsible for the ethics of the world in which we live. We need to take time to educate ourselves and others. We needs to talk about this at events. It needs to be part of everything we do.

Because ignorance is not an excuse for risking harm to others.

One thought on “Ethics, Facebook, and Medium

  1. Good article(s) Laurence, and I agree on the point about teaching Ethics. I’m not quite sure about the comparison between a sociological observation test and medical studies. Showing people cute cats to see if it improves their mood, is not quite the same as pumping pregnant women full of Thalidomide…

    Nevertheless, I think there is a much more important issue than ethics involved here, that people tend to ignore: How addicted are people to Facebook, that its feed can manipulate their mood? Every day, I talk to a dozen people. If they are happy and positive, I feel positive too. If they are downhearted, I feel sad. I watch the news – generally depressing. My kids are home ill, I feel sad. The sun is shining, I feel a lot more cheerful. There are a hundred different factors each day that will influence my mood and – potentially – what I post on Facebook. Even if reading posts from my friends makes me feel sad or happy for them, random posts pushed by Facebook don’t even factor in the top 100…

    What type of people does this study sample? If they are genuinely affected by their Facebook feed, they need some serious help, and we should be looking more seriously at the overall impact of social media to people’s mental welfare!

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