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Transparent Tuesday

Transparent Tuesday: Facebook Manipulated Our Emotions

By July 1, 2014 No Comments

Facebook have been messing with our emotions. LITERALLY! It was recently reported by Slate  and other news outlets that Facebook intentionally manipulated our emotions without our knowledge. We all are aware that they’ve changed the algorithm to effect the impressions our posts receive. But their recent move has me ready to throw in the towel with Facebook.

According to Slate:

The researchers, who are affiliated with Facebook, Cornell, and the University of California–San Francisco, tested whether reducing the number of positive messages people saw made those people less likely to post positive content themselves. The same went for negative messages: Would scrubbing posts with sad or angry words from someone’s Facebook feed make that person write fewer gloomy updates?

They tweaked the algorithm by which Facebook sweeps posts into members’ news feeds, using a program to analyze whether any given textual snippet contained positive or negative words. Some people were fed primarily neutral to happy information from their friends; others, primarily neutral to sad. Then everyone’s subsequent posts were evaluated for effective meanings.

The upshot? Yes, verily, social networks can propagate positive and negative feelings!

To put that in laymen’s terms, Facebook have been manipulating the type of posts we see from our “friends” on our news feed based on the mood that the post elicits. They intentionally showed us either positive or negative posts to see how it would affect our own mood which would be revealed in the tone of our very own posts.

This reminds me of the news on television and how they purposely show us what they want us to see, thus having a strong influence on our mood. There are people who choose not to watch the news to avoid such negativity from entering their psyche. Facebook is beginning to do the same thing and calling it “research”. It’s one thing to observe behavior; it is another to try to manipluate it, especially WITHOUT our knowledge. And I’ve been wondering why certain posts of mine received a substantial amount of engagement over others.

In a public post on Facebook, Adam D. I. Kramer, a member of Facebook’s Core Data Science Team and one of the co-authors of the study finally responded to the uproar:

The reason we did this research is because we care about the emotional impact of Facebook and the people that use our product. We felt that it was important to investigate the common worry that seeing friends post positive content leads to people feeling negative or left out. At the same time, we were concerned that exposure to friends’ negativity might lead people to avoid visiting Facebook. We didn’t clearly state our motivations in the paper.

Nobody’s posts were “hidden,” they just didn’t show up on some loads of Feed. Those posts were always visible on friends’ timelines, and could have shown up on subsequent News Feed loads. And we found the exact opposite to what was then the conventional wisdom: Seeing a certain kind of emotion (positive) encourages it rather than suppresses is.

His post also mentioned that the study occurred in 2012 for the duration of just one week, and only about 0.04% of users were studied. Despite the length of time, when it occurred, and the amount of users they tracked, what concerns me is the fact that they have the ability to manipulate their algorithm in a way that could affect our mood. Instead of seeing all of the posts that our “friends” share, we’re only going to see some of them, depending on what Facebook chooses to show us.

I find this not only alarming, but extremely dangerous, especially when so many prefer using Facebook out of comfort, over the other social networks that does not manipulate the type of posts we see. In my last #TransparentTuesday post I mentioned how I have a love/hate relationship with social media since it has become the home of the narcissist. Given this new information, I see it becoming the cause of heightened mental illness; and this should not be taken lightly.

Facebook has always concerned me since they hit it big with the general public. I was a bit skeptical about sharing such personal information in such a public manner, but grew to like it when I discovered how businesses were using it to build their awareness. But given the control Facebook have placed on what we see, the sirens are back on and I’ve chosen to limit my activity on that particular network.

How do you feel about Facebook and their manipulating role in our lives? How has it affected your social media strategy?