There has been a lot of hubbub about the ethics of a mood experiment Facebook ran several years ago. But, what if Facebook could consistently alter what it presents users to improve their mood and well-being? Positive psychology guru Marty Seligman hints at this in Flourish:
It is not only measuring well-being that Facebook and its cousins can do, but increasing well-being as well. “We have a new application: goals.com,” Mark continued. “In this app, people record their goals and their progress toward their goals.”
I commented on Facebook’s possibilities for instilling well-being: “As it stands now, Facebook may actually be building four of the elements of well-being: positive emotion, engagement (sharing all those photos of good events), positive relationships (The heart of what ‘friends’ are all about), and now accomplishment. All to the good. The fifth element of well-being, however, needs work, and in the narcissistic environment of Facebook, this work is urgent, and that is belonging to and serving something that you believe is bigger than the self – the element of meaning. Facebook could indeed help to build meaning in the lives of the five hundred million users. Think about it, Mark.” (page 98)
This might still be a question of ethics and letting users know what is happening. And I’m sure some critics would argue that it is too artificial, the relationships sustained online are of a different kind than that of face-to-face relationships (though we know most users interact with people online that they already know offline), and this puts too power in the hands of Facebook. Yet, what if Facebook could help improve well-being? What if a lot of good be done by altering the online experience?