Many users have a distinct lack of trust in Facebook, partly because of the various security flaws that have surfaces over the years, partly due to reports of snooping, partly due to the social network changing the privacy features more than one changes underwear, and partly because they’re free to mess with your news feed without actually needing your say so.
Last week it surfaced that Facebook had purposely altered 689,000 users news feeds in order to run an emotional experiment. The experiment involved Facebook altering exactly what showed up on peoples news feeds to see if it affected their moods. According to a paper recently published in PNAS, Facebook used software to identify positie and negative words in status updates, then showed half of the 689,000 only positive statuses, and the other half only negative. This only happened occasionally however, as refreshing Facebook resulted in all statuses appearing.
The results? Well it’s kind of obvious. Facebook’s researchers proved that emotions can be contagious even without direct contact on social networks, even if its just words on a screen.
Now, you’d think that this is fairly invasive, right? Unfortunately not as by signing up to the social network and agreeing to their terms of service you’ve agreed to allow this sort of thing to happen. Facebook have also assured users that this was done entirely by machines and no researchers had access to your news feeds. But that hasn’t stopped people getting angry at the social network.
As a result Study co-author Adam Kramer has explained the reasoning behind the social experiment in a status update.
“The reason we did this research is because we care about the emotional impact of Facebook and the people that use our product. We felt that it was important to investigate the common worry that seeing friends post positive content leads to people feeling negative or left out. At the same time, we were concerned that exposure to friends’ negativity might lead people to avoid visiting Facebook. We didn’t clearly state our motivations in the paper.”
Kramer went on to explain that the study affected a very small percentage of Facebook users, about 0.04% of users, or 1 in 2500, and that no posts were hidden they just didn’t show up on some loads of your news feed. “Those posts were always visible on friends’ timelines, and could have shown up on subsequent News Feed loads. And we found the exact opposite to what was then the conventional wisdom: Seeing a certain kind of emotion (positive) encourages it rather than suppresses is.”
“And at the end of the day, the actual impact on people in the experiment was the minimal amount to statistically detect it — the result was that people produced an average of one fewer emotional word, per thousand words, over the following week.”
So whether you’re amongst the very few subjected to this experiment, know that if you had mostly positive statuses on your news feed, you became slightly more positive because of it. Hooray!