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Reassessing the Facebook experiment: critical thinking about the validity of Big Data research

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The Facebook experiment of 2014 manipulated the contents of nearly 700,000 users’ News Feeds to induce changes in their emotions. This experiment was widely criticized on ethical grounds regarding informed consent. This controversy, however, diverted attention from a more important concern the experiment was intended to address, which is the impact of Facebook use on well-being. In this paper, I explore the well-being concerns raised by prior research and argue that the experiment does not alleviate them, owing to poor research design. As the question of Facebook's impact on well-being is of great importance, both to Facebook and to society overall, there is a pressing need for more experimental research that is both sensitive to informed consent and carefully designed to yield reliable results. In turn, the lessons of this case have implications for general issues of validity that emerge in Big Data research, now in vogue at major scientific venues.
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Keywords: Big Data; Facebook experiment; LIWC; social media; well-being

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School of Information, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA

Publication date: August 2, 2016

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