Facebook is a school yard bully that's going down

The social networking site is charting the same course followed by MySpace and Friendster

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Cornell has since released a statement putting some distance between it and Facebook, directing any ethics questions to Facebook itself. "Professor [Jeffrey] Hancock and Dr. [Jamie] Guillory [now at the University of California -- San Francisco] did not participate in data collection and did not have access to user data. Their work was limited to initial discussions, analyzing the research results and working with colleagues from Facebook to prepare the peer-reviewed paper."

Adam Kramer, the Facebook researcher who worked on the study posted his own statement -- on Facebook, of course -- to try and reassure users that the company's internal self-policing insured that the study was ethical.

"The reason we did this research is because we care about the emotional impact of Facebook and the people that use our product," Kramer wrote. "We felt that it was important to investigate the common worry that seeing friends post positive content leads to people feeling negative or left out. At the same time, we were concerned that exposure to friends' negativity might lead people to avoid visiting Facebook.

"...I can understand why some people have concerns about it, and my coauthors and I are very sorry for the way the paper described the research and any anxiety it caused," Kramer said in his post. "In hindsight, the research benefits of the paper may not have justified all of this anxiety."

Now, let's be real; studies like this can be useful, given that social media is a major part of our day-to-day lives. But manipulating people's emotions in any way can be extremely dangerous, and the possibility of hurting someone, no matter how little, is too high a price to pay.

Facebook's senior leadership -- in particular, those involved with the study -- apparently slept through their ethics courses in college. A company technically has the right to hide behinds its Terms and Conditions as much as it wants; but that doesn't make dubious actions right. In fact, it just reinforces the growing belief that Facebook acts according to its own rules, users be damned. And younger users -- the very ones it needs to stay alive -- are the ones who feel this the most.

It's not too late to keep those and other users on board. A Forrester study showed that 57% of the users it surveyed who are between the ages of 12 and 17 said Facebook is their most often-used social site, and nearly half of 12- and 13-year-olds said they now use Facebook more than they did a year ago.

Whether Facebook will continue to be a powerhouse by 2017 or will by then be on its way down, as Princeton predicted, remains to be seen. What is certain is that a sizable number of people will continue to leave as more privacy issues arise. Clearly, Facebook hasn't learned from previous mistakes and the backlash from the public. It is a company that does not care about its users; otherwise, it would respect them more by creating a profile verification system that legitimizes user accounts, give users the ability to opt-out of any "studies," and do a better job of protecting its users from criminals.

The lack of respect it's shown of late, if left unchecked, will be the company's downfall.

Alex Burinskiy is a technical analyst at IDG, Computerworld's parent company. He was previously an Apple Store genius for four years and has worked with a range of IT systems, from personal to enterprise, for nine years. You can find him on Twitter (@aburinskiy).

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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