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Case Study Topic

In the following case, you are asked to identify a course of action and to defend it based on a discussion of ethics and ethical courses of action.

Your ethical arguments may include references to provisions of your academic field’s “code of ethics” or “code of conduct” if one exists. If your area does not have such a code, three popular approaches to ethics include a duty based or legal one (what is required by my position, what is required by law?); a virtue, “golden rule” or “right behavior” approach (i.e., for example, good people don’t steal, one should never tell a lie, do unto others as you would have them do unto you); and a utilitarian or consequences-based approach that considers the possible results of a course of action and seeks to bring about the greatest good for the greatest number of people (i.e., are more people helped than hurt by this action?).

Often, any course of possible action brings about multiple outcomes and raises many different concerns—some of which are desirable and others that are not. This is why ethical decisions are seldom easy ones. Nonetheless, many times decisions do have to be made.

Please read the following case study carefully: What ethical dilemmas are in play here? To be most effective, this discussion should relate to your academic field of study here at UNT. After a brief discussion of the dilemmas you find, identify a course of action you would take to resolve the dilemma and justify such action from an ethical standpoint. If your choices are based on any particular code of ethics or approach, you should identify these. Likewise, be sure to show that you recognize the ethical implications of having not selected other approaches.

Entries should follow this criteria:

  1. Double space, 12 point type.
  2. A maximum of 1,000 words.
  3. A direct connection to your field of study or future profession at UNT.

Evaluations will be based on the following criteria:

  1. Focus on Field of Study
  2. Discussion of an Ethical Behavior or Standard
  3. Applicability of the Case Study
  4. Intellectual Debate or Discussion
  5. Mechanics
  6. Presence of a Thesis or Position

CASE STUDY 2018: TARGETING A BROKEN HEART

Irina Raicu

On February 3rd, Facebook’s “People Insights” blog published a post titled “What Mends a Broken Heart on Facebook.” In it, the company’s researchers detailed insights that they had gathered by examining “how the break-up moment influenced the online behaviors of people across France, the Netherlands, Poland, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom who indicated on Facebook that they recently went through a break up.”

One of their findings was that “there could be a gap between the break up itself and the Facebook post announcing it. During the two weeks before and the two weeks after their break-up announcement,” they explained, users “accepted more than one invitation to an event 40% more than [during] the 60 days before and 60 days after their announcement.”

The researchers also noted that “’Healing,’ ‘detox,’ ‘drowning sorrows,’ ‘binge watching’ and ‘suffering’ are just some of the words and phrases that are more pronounced in men’s posts before they mark themselves ‘Single.’ The same types of words and phrases are more pronounced in women’s posts on the actual day of their announcement.”

As to what helps people get over a breakup, Facebook researchers wrote that “[g]aining new experiences… seems to be more therapeutic than buying things.” Under the subhead “What it means for marketers,” the post then asks, “How can brands be a part of the journey to help mend people’s broken hearts?” Suggested answers include “Empathize with them” and “Offer them new experiences.” The post concludes by encouraging potential Facebook advertising clients: “Tracking signals of intent to travel, experience new things or take up a new hobby can help you reach this group with a relevant ad at the right time.”

Is it ethical for Facebook to mine its users’ posts for signals that those users are about to go through a break up? Is it ethical for the company to then help its business clients target their ads based on this research? 

Is what Facebook is doing different from what other companies do?

How might Facebook’s actions be perceived through the ethical principles you have learned in your college program such as utilitarianism, rights, justice, virtue, and the common good?

Irina Raicu is the director of Internet Ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.

Feb. 14, 2017

Case adapted from and used with the permission of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.