It’s fairly well-publicised that Facebook makes you sad (I mean, we’ve all been there, crouching over our laptops at 3am, shedding a silent tear as FB unceremoniously dumps us into a dark pit of despair, amirite??), but what’s even more upsetting is that it doesn’t care. Worse – it was actually doing it on purpose.
Facebizzle has admitted it told researchers to mess with users’ news feeds and manipulate their emotions so they could examine ‘emotional contagion’. To do this, its data scientist Adam Kramer gave the go-ahead for the manipulations of the positive and negative posts on the feeds of nearly 700,000 people, to see how they would react. Kramer apologised in his own blog, but Facebook is all ‘sorry not sorry’.
The overriding impression (and justification) was that old FaceyB thought it would help make its content more relevant and engaging: “This research was conducted for a single week in 2012 and none of the data used was associated with a specific person’s Facebook account. We do research to improve our services and to make the content people see on Facebook as relevant and engaging as possible. A big part of this is understanding how people respond to different types of content, whether it’s positive or negative in tone, news from friends, or information from pages they follow. We carefully consider what research we do and have a strong internal review process. There is no unnecessary collection of people’s data in connection with these research initiatives and all data is stored securely.”
The study ended two and a half years ago and whilst they say they’ve changed their ways since then they just don’t seem to care, and fears are that if they aren’t held accountable then there’s no telling where the manipulation could end – or, if the wrong people were backing the process, what they could incite.
This is partly because the power of social media is enough to rouse the modern day mob. Research has shown that anger is the most viral emotion on the internet, and a study by researchers at Beihang University in China found that we are more likely to share negative stuff than messages containing other emotions. Tapping into emotions may be one way of keeping people engaged, but is it worth the fall out? Personally, I would have thought not making people want flush their own heads down loo is better. How do you keep people engaged? Let us know in the comments.