Why are ethics important in research?

When conducting any kind of research that involves the public it is necessary to get it approved by a human research ethics committee(HREC). It is important to have an outside party approve that what you are conducting is ethically sound and will not offend, invade privacy or put anyone in danger. As ethics have always been a subjective topic depending on your personal opinion, what is ‘right’ can be different to someone else. To avoid debate about what may or may not be ethical to some, rules are adopted by organisations to inform their employees and the public about what their ethical standards are. The National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research is the broad guideline which all research projects must comply with in Australia.

Of course when we surround ourselves with negative people, situations or just a negative mindset, the outcome is going to be negative. But have you ever wondered if that person who always posts those miserable status updates on Facebook is actually making you miserable too?. Well turns out you would have been better off deleting Ned from Facebook who loves to tell you how he lost his job and his girlfriend.

In 2014, Facebook conducted a research study on Emotional Manipulation and to prove that emotional contagion exists on Facebook, meaning that if someone’s Facebook newsfeed is primarily negative posts then they will feel sad or negative without the actual physical interaction with people. They carried this out by manipulating peoples newsfeeds to either primarily negative or positive data and found that in fact emotional contagion is very present online. However, they did this without peoples consent and without a HREC approval which is arguably unethical and illegal. But why did they feel they did not need ethical approval?.

They claimed that they did not need a research committee’s approval as the results would not be shared with the public and was for internal use only. At the time, the study was consistent with Facebook’s policies, however the clauses regarding research were only added 4 months after the study was conducted. When considering peoples mental states of mind and how the manipulation might effect them, 6.7% of Americans suffer from clinical depression, so approximately 46,000 of facebooks user base may have been suffering from depression at the same time they were conducting the research. This means that any kind of unusual amount of negativity or something directly coming from the research could have been responsible for a persons safety or the impact it had upon them. It sounds like Facebook knew they had put peoples lives at risk and tried to cover themselves four months later when they had realised and it was much too late. For as large a company as Facebook to get away with such unethical research is an indicator that individuals wellbeing needs to be put well before a companies interest in research.


Instagram vs. Real Life

Instagram as we all know is completely reliant on interpretation. Unlike Facebook which allows users to express lengthy opinions in status updates, Instagram is image-driven which makes it much easier for users to trick/influence their followers into believing and only seeing a certain aspect of their life as they want them to see it. Although you have the ability to write a caption underneath your photo which is limited to 2200 words (entirely reasonable amount to explain a photo), you are not able to write more than 150 words in your ‘bio’ which is what is supposed to tell people about yourself, arguably setting people up to not properly express themselves before they even start posting. Instagram is however and has never claimed to be a forum used for drawn-out conversation or discussion like Facebook can be used for, which is arguably the beauty of Instagram. But, what are the consequences and harms of portraying yourself as someone who you may not be in real life?. Is the more we post on Instagram the more we search for validation through likes and not through our real lives?.  As they say “Being famous on Instagram is like being rich in monopoly money” – it’s not real.

In a recent article in the New York times titled “Facebook made me do it”, this loop of positive reinforcement through likes on Instagram is analysed. The near immediate approval of what you are doing can become addictive and necessary, it may influence us to post more controversial photos just to see how much the barrier can be pushed and what people respond to. The article compares this kind of activity to such things as graffiti or protests, the world wide scale of who’s going to see what you are doing increases the risks you are willing to take, its described as being ‘performative’. I think this is extremely true and see it in my friends I follow on instagram, businesses, fashion labels, organisations, even I myself am guilty of such things. It is hard not to glamourise the photos you post on your online life, with the options of filters and saturations. What in reality is a photo of a cloudy and cold day can instantly become a hot and sun drenched day just with the application of a filter.

The article references the research of Coye Cheshire, a professor of information sciences at the University of California, Berkeley, who studies how we interact online. He thinks that the act of anonymity online is similar to the feeling that is received when in a crowd, you act more impulsively than you might in person and so do things that you otherwise would not face to face. This is often seen in the example of ‘keyboard warriors’, often just bullies who find their voices much easier and louder online than they would in real life. This article is extremely successful in illustrating what the effects of having an online personality can be and the feelings of encouragement and approval which you may or may not like to admit are hard to ignore.