According to a study recently published by The PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) social networks such as Facebook can impact one’s emotions. A Facebook data scientist and two additional researchers conducted a now controversial secret study over a one-week period in 2012 which reportedly played with the emotions of approximately 689,000 unknowing participants.
Online sources(such as USA Today) indicate that the trio of researchers were attempting to discover if “exposure to emotional content led people to post content that was consistent with the exposure — thereby testing whether exposure to verbal affective expressions leads to similar verbal expressions, a form of emotional contagion.”
James Grimmelmann, a law professor at the University of Maryland and one of the investigative team, noted that one of the experimental groups has positive terms such as “nice” and “love” filtered out of their news feeds. Facebook users with “less positive content” in their news feeds included more negative words in their various status updates.
Grimmelmann reported: “This, however, was not an observational study. It was an experimental study—indeed, a randomized controlled trial—in which participants were treated differently. We wouldn’t tell patients in a drug trial that the study was harmless because only a computer would ever know whether they received the placebo.
He added: “The unwitting participants in the Facebook study were told (seemingly by their friends) for a week either that the world was a dark and cheerless place or that it was a saccharine paradise. That’s psychological manipulation, even when it’s carried out automatically. This is bad, even for Facebook.”
The outrage spawned by the study inspired one of the researchers to make a statement. Study co-author Adam Kramer said: “The goal of all of our research at Facebook is to learn how to provide a better service. Having written and designed this experiment myself, I can tell you that our goal was never to upset anyone.”
In a post on Facebook he concluded: “I can understand why some people have concerns about it, and my co-authors and I are very sorry for the way the paper described the research and any anxiety it caused. In hindsight, the research benefits of the paper may not have justified all of this anxiety.”