One week ago today, I asked Facebook to delete my account. This was in response to the news they had conducted scientific experiments on users without obtaining informed consent. This crossed an important ethical line and by keeping my account active, I would be tacitly endorsing their corporate sociopathy.
I had considered deleting my Facebook account last year when they updated their Data Use Policy and the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities to use our photos in ads. As someone who fights unethical marketing, I felt complicit in Facebook’s manipulations. After weighing the pros and the cons, I decided to continue but knew our days together were numbered. The straw that broke the camel’s back came on June 27th when I read about their experiment on users which was an ethical violation of the principle of informed consent:
What makes this experiment more grievous is the lack of a briefing or debriefing, as well as a callous disregard for the principle to avoid harm to subjects.
I immediately wanted to delete my account but decided to wait a day to make sure I wasn’t making a rash decision. After thinking it over, I decided it was the only solution my conscience could live with. If advocates won’t take a stand against unethical practices, who will?
I have willingly participated in scientific research studies where I had informed consent and understand why this is such a vital part of the research process. As Dr. Janet Stemwedel put it:
It’s not unreasonable for people to judge that violating their informed consent (say, by not letting them know that they are human subjects in a study where you are manipulating their environment and not giving them the opportunity to opt out of being part of your study) is itself a harm to them. When we value our autonomy, we tend to get cranky when others disregard it.
Others professionals spoke out about Facebook’s ethical violation:
Like a serial abuser, Facebook has a history of making mistakes, apologizing, and then pushing the boundaries even further:
This latest episode may cause the company more regulatory pain, as it should. British and Irish regulators have said they’re going to take a look at the study. The FTC needs to take a harder line, too. So should users; Facebook’s serial excuse-making has long since lost its credibility.
This decision to delete my accounts comes at a cost. I will miss staying up-to-date with my friends and family. I am losing opportunities to advocate for a healthier food environment and am losing an important resource for connecting with other advocates and organizations. Despite these costs, I have no regrets about making the decision to un-friend Facebook. USA Today says no one is mad enough to quit Facebook over this research study. I beg to differ and highly recommend it.