Recently, some social media users have been in an uproar after Facebook admitted to carrying out a secret experiment in which the news feeds of more than 600,000 users were filtered to see if those individuals would have differing emotions based upon what they saw on the screen. For example, it was determined if a person was exposed to more positive news from friends, he or she would be less likely to post something negative as a status update. The opposite was also found to be true.
“Massive-Scale Emotional Contagion”
On a smaller scale, most of us are already familiar with this phenomenon. Spending time with a friend who is in an abundantly good mood probably makes you feel similar, even if you were previously feeling a little down in the dumps.
For the purposes of this study, the changes in a person’s emotions were collectively called “massive-scale emotional contagion.” Put simply, scientists determined it was not necessary for a person to interact on a face-to-face basis, and that an individual only needed to read about an emotion being expressed in order to be potentially influenced.
Fears About Future Data
As soon as the study made it into the public realm, it was met with a great deal of concern. As quoted in a piece from The Guardian, a spokeswoman for Facebook clarified how the study took place in order “to improve our services and to make the content people see on Facebook as relevant and engaging as possible.”
However, some people around the world have protested in earnest, especially considering the experiment took place without a user’s knowledge. Selection for the experiment was randomized and based on a person’s user ID. Some people worried future manipulation of news feeds could potentially be very powerful, especially if it occurs in conjunction with political campaigns.
Attempts to Influence Emotions Are Not New
It’s important to remember that ever since advertising has existed, there have been efforts made to create emotional responses in people who see the campaigns. Usually, the most memorable advertisements are ones that resonate with you on a deep level.
Trying to tap into the emotions of a user base certainly doesn’t have to be connected with sinister goals. If you’re an athlete who’s thinking about using a therapy pool during a rehabilitation process, you’d probably really appreciate if the respective website had testimonials from fellow athletes who have depended on aquatic therapy to get back to top form.
Reading about the experiences of people who might have been in similar situations to the one you’re now facing would almost certainly incite a sense of hope, especially if you’re already wrestling with a lot of doubt and are wondering if you’ll ever be able to perform well again.
Carefully Read the Terms and Conditions
Facebook, like other social media websites, has terms and conditions that users must agree with before getting permission to use the site. If news of Facebook’s experiment makes you feel uneasy, maybe that’s a good reminder that it’s time to revisit the user agreements for all the sites you frequent, and make sure you’re still OK with what’s stated there.