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Facebook's Emotional Contagion? About That

Carson Reider
Carson Reider / July 14, 2014

Facebook's Emotional Contagion Thanks, Bill Watterson!

"Facebook Manipulated 689,003 Users' Emotions For Science", read the headline on Forbes.

In a world where anything on the Internet can be manipulated, it's no surprise that the practice has seeped into the terms and conditions of social networking sites.

So, how did Facebook manipulate our information?

What were they trying to do?

Our Emotional Data

I'm sure you've all read Facebook’s data use policy.

Oh, you haven't?

Well, it states that users' information can be used "for internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement", which makes all Facebook guinea pigs users at the mercy of the mad scientists in Silicon Valley.

The study wanted to see emotional connections between users and their subsequent actions, which we've already discussed does occur and can have negative consequences.

It appears that Facebook's famous EdgeRank algorithm, which controls what users see in their News Feed, has already implemented the results of this study in its complex mathematical computer brain processes stuff.

The Study

emojisIt's not too complex, so follow along.

The study looked for positive and negative words in status updates (our emoji friends got left out of the analysis, unfortunately), and were compiled in a "Gross National Happiness Graph".

There, simple as that.

The Findings: Facebook's Emotional Contagion

"These results indicate that emotions expressed by others on Facebook influence our own emotions, constituting experimental evidence for massive-scale contagion via social networks," states the paper published by the Facebook research team in the PNAS.

I doubt Jonah Berger would agree with the use of "contagion" in this context.

The researchers, led by Adam Kramer, found that emotions were contagious.

"When positive expressions were reduced, people produced fewer positive posts and more negative posts," it goes on.

This work may suggest that "in-person interaction and nonverbal cues are not strictly necessary for emotional contagion, and that the observation of others’ positive experiences constitutes a positive experience for people."

What Do You Think?

Since the study looked at words in status updates, were they really analyzing moods, or were they inferring their users' feelings?

In my opinion Facebook overstepped their bounds on this study, and I'm not the only one complaining.

Is this just Facebook trying to keep us on all the site?

Let us know in the comments below!

Tagged With: Social Media