Facebook’s Emotional Contagion Experiment as a Challenge to Research Ethics

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2439

Article | Open Access

Facebook’s Emotional Contagion Experiment as a Challenge to Research Ethics


  • Jukka Jouhki Department of History and Ethnology, University of Jyväskylä, Finland
  • Epp Lauk Department of Communication, University of Jyväskylä, Finland
  • Maija Penttinen Department of History and Ethnology, University of Jyväskylä, Finland
  • Niina Sormanen Department of Communication, University of Jyväskylä, Finland
  • Turo Uskali Department of Communication, University of Jyväskylä, Finland


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Abstract:  This article analyzes the ethical discussion focusing on the Facebook emotional contagion experiment published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2014. The massive-scale experiment manipulated the News Feeds of a large amount of Facebook users and was successful in proving that emotional contagion happens also in online environments. However, the experiment caused ethical concerns within and outside academia mainly for two intertwined reasons, the first revolving around the idea of research as manipulation, and the second focusing on the problematic definition of informed consent. The article concurs with recent research that the era of social media and big data research are posing a significant challenge to research ethics, the practice and views of which are grounded in the pre social media era, and reflect the classical ethical stances of utilitarianism and deontology.

Keywords:  Big data; emotional contagion; Facebook; informed consent; manipulation; methodology; privacy; research ethics; social media; user data

Published:   10 October 2016


DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/mac.v4i4.579


© Jukka Jouhki, Epp Lauk, Maija Penttinen, Niina Sormanen, Turo Uskali. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.