Facebook manipulated the emotions of hundreds of thousands of its users, and found that they would pass on happy or sad emotions, it has said. The experiment, for which researchers did not gain specific consent, has provoked criticism from users with privacy and ethical concerns.
For one week in 2012, Facebook skewed nearly 700,000 users’ news feeds to either be happier or sadder than normal. The experiment found that after the experiment was over users’ tended to post positive or negative comments according to the skew that was given to their newsfeed.
The research has provoked distress because of the manipulation involved.
Clearly plenty of ads try to manipulative us with positive emotions, and without telling us. There are also plenty of sad songs, or for that matter sad movies and sad advertisements, again running an agenda for their own manipulative purposes. Is the problem with Facebook its market power? Or is the the sheer and unavoidable transparency of the notion that Facebook is inducing us to pass along similar emotions to our network of contacts, thus making us manipulators too, and in a way which is hard to us to avoid thinking about? What would Robin Hanson say?
Note by the way that “The effect the study documents is very small, as little as one-tenth of a percent of an observed change.” How much that eventually dwindles, explodes, or dampens out in the longer run I would say is still not known to us. My intuition however is that we see a lot of longer-run dampening and also intertemporal substitution of emotions, meaning this is pretty close to a non-event.
I hope you’re not too sad about this post [smiley face]!