It was a remarkable result: By manipulating the news feeds of thousands of Facebook users, without their knowing consent, researchers working with the goliath of social media found that they could spur a significant, if small, effect on people’s behavior in the world beyond bits.
The year was 2010. The scientists were poking at voting patterns in the U.S. midterm elections. And when the results came out two years later, in Nature, there was barely a peep about questionable ethics.
As you may have heard, a more recent study, conducted by Facebook and co-designed by researchers at Cornell University, has kicked off a vigorous debate about the influence of Facebook’s algorithms over our lives and, more specifically to academe, whether researchers should be more careful in how they collaborate with the social-media giant.