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Beware of Social Media Manipulation

Was your news feed one of the 700,000 that was manipulated by Facebook for a psychological experiment that was held in 2012? This shocking study was published in an abstract by the PNSA (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America).

The significance in the abstract stated, “We show, via a massive (N = 689,003) experiment on Facebook, that emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness. We provide experimental 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."

The abstract explained that Facebook reduced the amount of emotional content in the News Feed to determine whether this had any effect upon the user’s postings. The results showed that when Facebook reduced the amount of positive expressions in a person's news feed, their positive posts were reduced and their negative posts were increased. The exact opposite occurred when the social media giant reduced a person's negative expressions, which resulted in their news feed showing more positive postings and less negative postings.

This test indicated that emotional postings can influence other people's emotions, proving social networks can produce a massive scale contagion. Just the observance of someone else's positive or negative experiences affects the experiences of other people. This means emotional states are contagious and are transferable from one person to another.

This is not the first mind manipulation study conducted on masses of people. There was a very controversial psychological study where massive amounts of data was collected during a real world social network that lasted over 20 years. [Fowler JH, Christakis NA (2008) BMJ 337:a2338]

People that were targeted for the Facebook study were ones that viewed their news feeds in English. There were 2 different studies conducted simultaneously, one for the positive emotional test and one for the negative emotional test. All the users content was available on their wall, only the news feeds were manipulated for this psychological study. Facebook explained that no direct messages were affected either.

There was a withdrawal by the people that were used for this test, with the test results reporting that “People who were exposed to fewer emotional posts (of either valence) in their News Feed were less expressive overall on the following days, addressing the question about how emotional expression affects social engagement online.”