One of those experiments took place in January, 2012. Facebook ran an experiment on 689,003 users of the English version of Facebook where their Facebook newsfeeds were unwittingly manipulated to show certain types of posts. In doing this experiment, Facebook discovered they have the power to influence your emotions in a way that can make you happy or sad, depending on what they decide to show you.
During the week-long experiment, Facebook studied what effect positive posts versus negative posts had on those reading their newsfeed, according to a study recently published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) journal.
The experiment was designed in such a way as to determine whether or not exposure to a certain type of emotion would lead to a person changing their own posting behaviors. During the experiment, users’ actual posts were not altered, and they could be viewed by others as normal. What Facebook did, however, was change what users saw in their own newsfeed. Since the newsfeed is controlled by a Facebook algorithm, it’s Facebook which decides what actually shows up in it. They took control of the newsfeed to show certain types of posts to certain users to see what effect this had on them.
The study split the groups into two. The first group received a newsfeed full of positive posts, while the other group received a newsfeed full of more negative content. The findings of the experiment indicate that emotion, whether that emotion be positive or negative, seems to be adopted by those who see it. That is, those who were given the newsfeeds with positive content appeared to take on that positiveness, and post less negative information in their own posts. For those who had the negative newsfeeds, they took on that quality as well, and became more negative in what they posted on Facebook.
In other words, Facebook has the power to make you happier or sadder simply by deciding what to show you in your newsfeed. Why is this important? If they know they can manipulate your emotions, it’s reasonable to assume they can, and will, use this manipulation to put you in a better state of mind to purchase goods from their advertisers. By tweaking their algorithm in certain ways, they can predispose users to buy certain products and services by manipulating them into an emotional state, which would then better sell that product or service.
This experimenting shows that although Facebook is a “free service” to use, actually using the service comes with a cost. As the saying goes, “If you’re not paying for something, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.” This latest experiment shows exactly how Facebook plans to sell you, as the product, to their advertisers.
(Photo courtesy of Dimitris Kalogeropoylos)