"There's a lack of training to really question 'what are the implications of what I’m building,'" says Bonnie Tijerina, a researcher at Data & Society dedicated to tackling the social, cultural, and ethical issues around big data. "The Facebook [mood manipulation study] was big in getting people to stop and think, 'Oh, we really do need to figure out how we handle this.'"
It's entirely possible that Facebook has a robust, thorough system in place to ensure it doesn't overstep its bounds -- but we wouldn't know. The company and its data science team are notoriously hush-hush.
Political agenda or not, Facebook wields the power to affect an election -- even unintentionally -- simply by conducting voter turnout experiments at a particular moment in time. "Is it ethical to be experimenting on individuals, especially when you can show it has that effect, while these political events are taking place?" said Robyn Caplan, another researcher at Data & Society. "That there was a study that took place, which none of the users were aware of, that had a direct effect on both online and offline behavior, is incredibly problematic. When it comes to this stuff, there is no such thing as a politically neutral action."