Concept Experience #5

By William Hughes

Jun 27, 2014 3:30 PM

Scientists at Facebook have published a paper showing that they manipulated the content seen by more than 600,000 users in an attempt to determine whether this would affect their emotional state. The paper, “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks,” was published in The Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences. It shows how Facebook data scientists  tweaked the algorithm that determines which posts appear on users’ news feeds—specifically, researchers skewed the number of positive or negative terms seen by randomly selected users. Facebook then analyzed the future postings of those users over the course of a week to see if people responded with increased positivity or negativity of their own, thus answering the question of whether emotional states can be transmitted across a social network. Result: They can! Which is great news for Facebook data scientists hoping to prove a point about modern psychology. It’s less great for the people having their emotions secretly manipulated.


facebook mood

In order to sign up for Facebook, users must click a box saying they agree to the Facebook Data Use Policy , giving the company the right to access and use the information posted on the site. The policy lists a variety of potential uses for your data, most of them related to advertising, but there’s also a bit about “internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement.” In the study, the authors point out that they stayed within the data policy’s liberal constraints by using machine analysis to pick out positive and negative posts, meaning no user data containing personal information was actually viewed by human  researchers. And there was no need to ask study “participants” for consent, as they’d already given it by agreeing to Facebook’s terms of service in the first place.

Facebook data scientist Adam Kramer is listed as the study’s lead author. In an interview the company released a few years ago, Kramer is quoted as saying he joined Facebook because “Facebook data constitutes the largest field study in the history of the world.” It’s a charming reminder that Facebook isn’t just the place you go to see pictures of your friends’ kids or your racist uncle’s latest rant against the government—it’s also an exciting research lab, with all of us as potential test subjects.


This experience definitely enhanced the text. By not clicking on my link the readers missed out on other perspectives regarding this study. I think when you give two perspectives the reader has to analyze the text a lot more and then from there they can take a stance on the topic. Also my pictures I think were pretty thought provoking. The first one is insinuating that Facebook traps you from seeing the world, you end up viewing the world from someone else’s experiences instead of your own. I really want to use this technique in my own final project.


2 thoughts on “Concept Experience #5”

  1. I would ask you how the image that insinuates that “Facebook traps you from seeing the world” links to the article’s claims, which were that Facebook manipulated its users by controlling what appears in their news feeds. Your job — in your project — will be to provide explanation for the images you use. In this case, I don’t automatically make the connection between the image you use and the argument the article is making.
    After I think about it I do, but your reader shouldn’t have to stop and try to decipher and figure out the connection, right?

    In your “research labs” link they discuss another study facebook did. I guess you couldn’t alter the text in this assignment, but if you were to add a new study in your project, try to introduce it in your text. See our Google Hangout where we discuss integrating source material! (July 17th Hangout on Google+)

  2. I agree with you, when regarding that the links allow the readers to have a better idea of the topic on hand. With the different hyperlinks attached it give the original article more information which might help fill in gaps that the reader might have.

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