In the past couple of months, much has been made of Facebook’s experiment in which the network manipulated their users’ emotions by displaying different posts in the users’ news feeds. This activity raises a valid question regarding corporate responsibility to customers…
When the news broke that Facebook had altered users’ news feeds to determine how positive and negative updates impacted said users’ moods, many people were in an uproar.
Even the company’s COO apologized for the “poor communication.”
But in general, Facebook stands behind its assertion that users agreed to be subject to this type of study when they signed up for the service.
Not to mention the fact that the platform is constantly impacting what posts users see as a result of its ever-changing algorithm!
Earlier this year, General Mills changed their legal terms to indicate that consumers would forfeit their rights to sue the company if they subscribed to branded emails or downloaded a digital coupon (amongst other actions).
They quickly reversed that decision…
In mid-July, Southwest Airlines evicted a passenger from the aircraft after he tweeted a negative comment about the airline’s service via social media.
(He and his family were allowed back on the plane once he deleted the tweet!)
And just last week, OKCupid admitted that they had been serving up false match ratings to members to see how they would react.
Add to these examples, Hobby Lobby refusing to grant insurance coverage for certain forms of birth control and you have a big question mark regarding corporations’ responsibilities to their customers and employees.
Is it wrong for a digital service like Facebook or OKCupid to impact what their users see for the purpose of learning?
If they did so without full disclosure, I would argue yes.
In my opinion, this is the digital services equivalent of a food company dishonestly labeling their packaging.
Not to mention the fact that they risk losing their consumers’ trust as a direct result of the fraudulent actions.
Some would argue that the consumer could just stop buying or using that company’s product.
But what if Cheerios is the only cereal you can actually eat?
Maybe don’t download the company’s coupons?
Refrain from providing any negative feedback?
These all seem like rather extreme responses when the company in question should probably be honest, up-front and fair to begin with.
If a corporation has the rights of an individual, as was reinforced in the Hobby Lobby case, then perhaps the corporation should strive to behave like a moral individual as well.
And if they can’t do that, then maybe they deserve the negative publicity they get as a result!
As always, tell us what you think in the Comments below…