Advertisement
 
Friday, August 29, 2014
Amsterdam, NY ,
Advertisement

How Internet messed with our minds

Tuesday, July 08, 2014 - Updated: 6:45 AM

What was going on in your Facebook news feed the week of Jan. 11-18, 2012?

Birthday reminders, cat videos, crockpot recipes, baby pictures and invitations to play Bejeweled Blitz, probably, plus lots of current events posts were guaranteed to make you glad or mad.

That week, Mitt Romney won New Hampshire's Republican primary, Playboy announced it was leaving Chicago, and Hostess filed for bankruptcy, prompting fears that there would be no more Twinkies. The Patriots knocked the Broncos out of the NFL playoffs, putting an end to Tebowmania. Chicago had its first real snowfall in an otherwise mild winter, Derrick Rose was out with a sprained toe, and your crazy cousin was picking fights with anyone who commented on any of it.

If you were one of nearly 700,000 randomly selected Facebook users, though, your feed might have contained a little less to "like." Or dislike. For years, Facebook has ignored pleas to add a clickable thumbs-down icon. Maybe this is why.

That week, Facebook conducted a little experiment. Its robots trolled the news feeds of the users in that sample, tinkered with them to reduce the number of positive or negative posts, then studied the users' own entries for signs of "emotional contagion." They wanted to see if reducing the positives (or negatives) in your news feed made you feel less positive (or negative).

The results were published in the June 17 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study suggests that yes, emotional states can be transferred via social media, with no face-to-face interaction or nonverbal cues. People with happier news feeds posted slightly happier things themselves; people with grouchier feeds wrote slightly grouchier posts. The more conclusive finding, though, is that Facebook users don't appreciate being treated like lab rats.

There's nothing new about Facebook messing with the content supplied by its half-billion users.

Periodically, Facebook provokes a fresh uproar by rearranging the elements on users' home or personal pages, seemingly on whim, or changing the rules about who can see what. Where are your videos this time? Where did these ads come from, and how did Facebook know you were shopping for underwear yesterday? Keeping your privacy settings updated can feel like a losing battle, but those Buzzfeed quizzes are kind of addictive, like everything else on Facebook. So you keep threatening to close your account, but you don't.

The truth is that the whole Internet is one giant experiment in user behavior, though generally the goal is to figure out how to sell you something rather than to make you smile or frown. You might not like it, but you're getting used to it.

But Facebook's research crossed a line. This time, it wasn't just manipulating users' content; it was manipulating their minds. And without permission. Yes, you agreed to Facebook's terms of service and no, you probably didn't read them. So legally, Facebook has done nothing wrong. But ethically? It's a real stretch to argue that clicking on a little box the day you joined Facebook constitutes informed consent all these years later.

Talk about emotional contagion. Facebook made several thousand people happy or sad -- and millions of them furious. But somehow we don't expect a mass exodus. Because where does everyone go to rail about this outrage? To Facebook, that's where.

-- Chicago Tribune

     

Comments made about this article - 0 Total

Comment on this article

Advertisement
The Recorder Newscast

Most Popular

    Commissioner: Montgomery County sheriff candidates challenging each other's petitions
    Saturday, August 23, 2014

    Rams enter Foothills with plenty of new faces on team
    Saturday, August 23, 2014

    Police: Tractor trailer stuck in drive-thru
    Monday, August 25, 2014

    Police reports
    Saturday, August 23, 2014

    Barbara Spraker dies at 89
    Tuesday, August 26, 2014

    St. Mary's transition Diocese seeking a permanent fix
    Monday, August 25, 2014

    Letter to Amsterdam parishes from Bishop Edward Scharfenberger
    Sunday, August 24, 2014

    Rensselaer casino interests seeking support from Montgomery County
    Wednesday, August 27, 2014

    Montgomery County loses one of its champions
    Wednesday, August 27, 2014

    Letters to the editor
    Monday, August 25, 2014

Advertisement

Copyright © Port Jackson Media, LLC.

Privacy Policies: Recorder

Contact Us

Twitter

Instagram

Facebook