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Facebook manipulates users news feeds to control emotional responses

Facebook manipulates users news feeds to control emotional responses

To 'Like' or not to 'Like'?

The social networking site is facing a storm of protests after it revealed that it carried out a secret study involving 689,000 users in which friends' postings were changed to influence emotions

The facts of the experiment were released in an article entitled 'Experimental Evidence Of Massive-Scale Emotional Contagion Through Social Networks' and was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

The project showcased how Facebook has the ability to make you feel good or bad, just by adjusting what shows up in your news feed. Researchers analysed over 3 million posts containing over 122 million words and used an algorithm to characterise the language as 'positive' or 'negative'. The social media network's data team then adjusted the amount of positive or negative Facebook language users were exposed to on their news feeds to see how they would react – all taking place during one week back in January 2012.

The experiment tested whether an 'emotional contagion' occurs between people on Facebook, a question the authors (a Facebook scientist and two academics) tested by filtering users' news feeds, from the flow of comments, videos, pictures and web links posted by other people on their social network.

The results revealed that "Emotions expressed by friends, via online social networks, influence our own moods, constituting, to our knowledge, the first experimental evidence for massive-scale emotional contagion via social networks." With the researchers discovering that when users were exposed to fewer positive posts, they would themselves post fewer positive posts and more negative posts. The reverse was true when they were exposed to fewer negative posts. Therefore verbal and textual exposures have a big impact on our emotions, even if we don't hear a person's tone of voice or see their body language to communicate a 'negative' or a 'positive'.

Perhaps the scariest part about the news is that all of this is well within Facebook's rights – with the social media site's privacy policy (which has to be accepted by all users) containing clauses which allow for these types of reports and studies. 

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