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Internet research and ethics: inducing bullying on social networks considered okay?

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Dean Terry and  Bradley Griffith at the University of Texas at Dallas have created a Facebook app called EnemyGraph.

The basic idea is an introduction of a “dislike” feature on Facebook.

One can debate the merits of introducing this mechanism. I will not. Instead I’d like to comment on this quote from graduate student Bradley Griffith who worked on the project:

Mr. Griffith, though, expected some sparks to fly. He said he is disappointed that EnemyGraph hasn’t been used more for what he called “bullying and high-school dramas.” He feels Facebook’s current system is artificially nice, so he wants to “encourage people to confront their negative relations to each other head-on as a sort of conversation.” He argues that “when you keep groups or people separate, you can actually cultivate more enmity.”

Seriously? He is disappointed that their research project did not result in instances of bullying? Is he unaware that the consequences of bullying on social networks can be severe, including suicide?

This quote makes it sound like one of their working hypotheses was that their intervention would induce bullying on social networks. If this was the case, it puzzles me how this project managed to get IRB approval. Regardless, this quote is yet another sad example of how Internet research is carried out with little or no consideration of the very real risks of causing people harm.


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