How Facebook Hijacked your Newsfeed so you could Participate in a Social Experiment

a month ago
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In early 2012, a group of researchers took a randomized sample of 689,003 Facebook users and altered their news feed. They decided how many positive and negative posts each user would see to analyze emotional contagion, or the way that people transfer their positive or negative moods to each other. What they found was that even in the absence of nonverbal cues and direct interaction, we can experience the same emotions as the ones we are most often exposed to via social media.

Generally, when you interact with a negative person your experience is unpleasant because they are unpleasant. When you interact with a positive person, the same thing occurs; you feel happier based what feels like a good interaction. In our social media world, we fail to experience the nonverbal cues and in person interaction that were previously thought to be responsible for emotional contagion.

...for people who had positive content reduced in their News Feed, a larger percentage of words in people’s status updates were negative and a smaller percentage were positive. When negativity was reduced, the opposite pattern occurred. These results suggest that the emotions expressed by friends, via online social networks, influence our own moods...

There is obvious backlash to the study, as none of the user involved were aware of their participation. The researchers responsible have said that Facebook's Data Use Policy served as informed consent. They also stressed that their data software prevented them from reading any of the posts that were included in the study. Posts were included based on the use of emotional words, deemed positive or negative as defined by Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count software. The researchers issued a public apology, interestingly enough, on Facebook.

What this tells me is that positivity, no matter how you spread it, is contagious. Be kind to others and in the words you share, out loud, written and via social media. It can impact your "network" infinitely.

Interested in reading more? Find the full study here.


Dr. Pragati Gusmano (@DoctorPragati) is a naturopathic doctor who believes that a happy + healthy life is the best medicine. You can read more on her blog, Simple Medicine.

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