For one week in January 2012, Facebook altered its News Feed algorithms for 689,003 randomly selected users to gauge if exposure to emotions led people to change their own posting behaviours.
The researchers conducted 2 experiment. In the first experiment, Facebook reduced the positive content of News Feeds while the second experiment reduced the negative content of News Feed.
The results show that 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, constituting, to our knowledge, the first experimental evidence for massive-scale emotional contagion via social networks.
Wait a minute. You mean Facebook actually manipulated our News Feed to see how it affect our emotions without our prior consent? Even though Facebook have all the legal rights to do so in their User Agreement, it is still unethical to do so.
Just because we joined your social network doesn’t mean that we agree to be a lab mice.
There is no way to opt out of this sort of experiment. Facebook doesn’t even tell you if you were part of it. It just assume that it has the divine rights to manipulate its users’ emotion. This is not right. What if the user suffer from depression?
While some users might protest against this unethical behaviour, Facebook is most likely going to get out of this whole saga without a scratch. Everything will be back to normal in a few weeks time.
End of the day, what makes me worry the most is that Facebook has the capabilities to manipulate our emotions through what it display on our News Feed. I’m never a fan of the aggregated News Feed. While Facebook claims that they are aggregating our News Feed to give us what is relevant, what is stopping them from aggregating our News Feed to manipulate our emotions and thoughts?
And the worst thing is that even when we found out that Facebook is using its users for experiments, there is nothing the users can do about it. There is no good alternative social networking platform out there.