You probably know that you can’t believe everything you read online. You probably also know that you definitely can’t believe everything you read on Facebook. But what if you get more general than simply believing a fact? What if you notice that most of your friends are posting particularly positive content over the course of a week? What if instead that content is more negative in nature? Would that have an effect on you? Could your mood be able to be swayed by posts from those in your network? According to findings of a study Facebook participated in, and to the surprise of many Denver marketing firms, you most likely would.
According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, “A social network furor has erupted over news that Facebook Inc, in 2012 conducted a massive psychological experiment on nearly 700,000 unwitting users. To determine whether it could alter the emotional state of its users and prompt them to post either more positive or negative content, the site's data scientists enabled an algorithm, for one week, to automatically omit content that contained words associated with either positive or negative emotions from the central news feeds of 689,003 users.”
The findings were published in the March issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, and it appears to have struck a nerve with many users claiming they were toyed with and manipulated. “What many of us feared is already a reality: Facebook is using us as lab rats, and not just to figure out which ads we’ll respond to but actually chance our emotions.”
Facebook is not new to using their vast amount of personal data to fuel social experiments. Its Data Science Team is specifically tasked with this goal in mind. They are supposed to turn the information created by more than 800 million daily users into viable scientific research. Unfortunately, not everyone shares this goal for a higher understanding of human behavior. “On Sunday, the Facebook data scientist who led the study in question, Adam Kramer, said he was having second thoughts about this particular project. ‘In hindsight, the research benefits of the paper may not have justified all of this anxiety,’ he wrote on his Facebook page.”
What is interesting about this study is that it was meant to test the idea of whether or not getting on Facebook and seeing everyone’s posts highlighting how great their day, week, month, or life has been truly inspires jealousy and remorse. Facebook opponents have been rallying around the idea of boycotting this so-called “Bragbook” since its inception. And to the credit of those who work for Facebook, “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."
While we professionals who work for the many Denver marketing firms were a bit surprised by this result, we are also relieved. It encourages us to share more positive content because we now know that we will be responsible for at least some portion of our audience’s moods. So if you find yourself trying to figure out how best to improve your audience’s state of mind while also spreading relevant and powerful content, please feel free to give us a call.