The Real Reason You Should Be Worried About That Facebook Experiment

Micro-manipulations through social media —


People are up in arms about the recent revelation that Facebook manipulated its users during a psychological study. The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and conducted by researchers at Cornell University and at Facebook (full disclosure: I know the authors and the article’s editor), showed that people who saw more happy messages in their news feed were more likely to post happy messages too. The researchers interpreted this as support for the theory of “emotional contagion”: that emotions can spread through online posts and interactions.

Unfortunately for the researchers, the explosive response to their study over social media confirms their findings. Negative emotion can easily go viral.

Why is this study is so controversial? Psychologists have known for years that individuals’ emotions can be influenced by their social surroundings. Sociologists have also shown that that people act like their friends or the people…

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