Facebook Has Been Using Us as Guinea Pigs for Emotional Experiments

Have you been posting happier updates on Facebook more than usual? Or maybe sadder ones? Just know that on the social media site that allows you to be who you really are, those expressions of your innermost being, the Facebook posts that truly reflect the condition of your soul ("lol I got Blanche, which Golden Girl r u?") are an utter and complete lie. You're not feeling positive or negative as a reflection of your own life. You're feeling that way as a reflection of your Facebook friends' lives—as curated by Facebook's mad scientists...and other researchers.

In the kind of harrowingly titled study "Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks," researchers found evidence that "emotional contagion occurs without direct interaction between people (exposure to a friend expressing an emotion is sufficient), and in the complete absence of nonverbal cues." Basically the happiness and sadness of our friends' posts affect our own happiness and sadness.


Via New Scientist:

To find out, they manipulated which posts showed up on the news feeds of more than 600,000 Facebook users. For one week, some users saw fewer posts with negative emotional words than usual, while others saw fewer posts with positive ones.

…People were more likely to use positive words in Facebook posts if they had been exposed to fewer negative posts throughout the week, and vice versa. The effect was significant, though modest…

Also, if users news feeds were not filled with as many emotional posts, positive or negative, they did not post as much. Okay, so that's one little crisis that we can all deal with on our own time—besides, people are contesting the design of the study and the accuracy of the software used to analyze the posts. But what about that other little crisis? You know, the one in which Facebook is toying with our emotions and there's straight up nothing we can do about it because technically there was no violation of Facebook's privacy policy. When you signed up for Facebook, you had to have agreed to their Data Use Policy, which means you gave consent to have your News Feed fucked around with.

It's important that we (continue) recognize that online activity affects our emotions and possibly our behavior irl, and as Sophie Weiner at Animal points out, this study could provide more insight into how we deal with online harassment. Still, I'm going to start posting several meticulous details from my moon journal with the hopes that one day, every Facebook user ever will be aligned with my menstrual cycle.


Image via Getty.

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