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.

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