Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Facebook Knows How To Make You Sad

In 2012 Facebook conducted a massive psychological experiment on 689,003 users, manipulating their news feeds to assess the effects on their emotions.  The details of the experiment were recently published in an article entitled “Experimental Evidence Of Massive-Scale Emotional Contagion Through Social Networks” in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

For one week in January of 2012, data scientists skewed what these users saw when they logged into its service. Some people were shown content with a preponderance of happy and positive words; some were shown content analyzed as sadder than average. And when the week was over, these manipulated users were more likely to post either especially positive or negative words themselves.

The study is legal: company’s current terms of service state that Facebook users relinquish the use of their data for “data analysis, testing, research.” But is it ethical?

The study found that by manipulating the News Feeds of the selected Facebook users users, it could affect the content which those users posted to Facebook. More negative News Feeds led to more negative status messages, as more positive News Feeds led to positive statuses.
This proved “that emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness.” 

Unsurprising there was a lot of negative reactions to the experiment and anxiety among users and media about the implications of the study. 

Source (and more detailed information on the study and its results): The Atlantic 

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