What Facebook’s ‘Terrible’ Experiment Taught Us

FacebookRx Last month a report was released that caused the Social Media World to flip it’s proverbial lid. In fact, there was such outrage I wouldn’t be surprised if someone actually found and flipped several non-proverbial lids.

The offense stemmed from the fact that Facebook tinkered with nearly 690,000 user accounts as a social experiment to determine if something called “emotional contagion” impacts people online. Basically they were looking to see if a person’s emotional state was affected by the emotions they perceived from others in their News Feed.

They tested this in a week long study involving two groups of people: One group would see fewer positive posts from others, the other group would see fewer negative posts. They discovered that we do in fact play off of the emotions of others within our social media sphere – those who saw fewer positive posts followed suit and posted less positive things. The pattern was the same for those who saw less negativity, they follow suit and produced more positive things.

In layman’s terms: Our emotional state is swayed by the emotions we see in the world around us. (At least, to some degree.)

While this experiment was legal –If you’re having trouble sleeping, go back and read the legalese that Facebook calls it’s Terms of Agreement. But, you did sorta give them permission to do this kind of thing– it’s still unclear where it’s entirely ethical of Facebook to try and depress several hundred thousand of its users, in the name of science. If you care to look, there are plenty of ‘fire and brimstone’ blog posts out there condemning Facebook for this ‘heinous act of treachery that it wrought upon humanity!’

However I’d invite you instead, to take a look at the silver-lining that many people may be missing in this story. What Facebook has shown us is that we can be the agents of emotional change on -potentially- a massive scale. If it’s true that we are under the effect of others emotional postings, then it stands to reason that they are under our influence; however minor that may be.

The study admits that it is very difficult to influence a person’s mood because there are so many factors involved, but what it seems to miss entirely is the fact that when it comes right down to it: YOU are in control of your emotions. That’s right! You get to be in charge of how you feel; not Facebook, not your co-workers, nor the overly dramatic celebrities you follow on Twitter. (Like, oh em gee Kim. Oh. Em. Gee.)

Knowing this, we then have the power to ‘look above’ the emotional clamor and turmoil and choose to be positive. At no point are we forced to surrender our emotive compass to the whims of those around us, especially those we interact with online. This means we can make the conscious decision to be positive in spite of what we’re being presented with, AND — here’s the really cool part — if enough people begin to make this choice, Facebook has gone and put the research in to show that it’s destined to spread. Forget viral marketing campaigns, forget finding your name on those Coke bottles, (If you see an “Alana” bottle by the way – my wife is still looking) you can be the pebble that instigates an avalanche of positive outlooks across your entire social media world. Not to get all ‘He-Man’ on you, but “[You] have the power!”

The best part is that eventually all of the happy vibes you’ve been sending out will come back your way. Like dropping a pebble in a bathtub, those waves will soon bounce off the walls and head back in the direction they came from. It’s all too easy nowadays to get lost down the rabbit hole of negativity and hate. Isn’t it nice to know that we all stand a chance at making the world a brighter, more positive place?




About Jared

I am a 24 year old Public Relations student at UVU.
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