Facebook users are up in arms and an MP has called for an investigation after news broke that Facebook secretly ran an experiment to try to manipulate almost 700,000 users’ emotions.
The experiment, conducted with the University of California and Cornell, saw Facebook altering homepage feeds to make them more or less positive.
It did so by showing more or less posts containing positive language to measure whether “exposure to emotions led people to change their own posting behaviours”.
The study found that “emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness”.
The results showed “experimental evidence for massive-scale contagion via social networks”.
And it is precisely Facebook’s proven power to generate “massive-scale” emotional contagion that has provoked outrage – plus the fact the world’s biggest social network tried to do so without users’ consent.
Facebook users and the Twittersphere have reacted angrily to the news, while Labour MP Jim Sheridan has called for a parliamentary investigation.
“This is extraordinarily powerful stuff and if there is not already legislation on this, then there should be to protect people,” he said, as reported in the Guardian.
“They are manipulating material from people’s personal lives and I am worried about the ability of Facebook and others to manipulate people’s thoughts in politics or other areas.
“If people are being thought-controlled in this kind of way there needs to be protection and they at least need to know about it.”
A Facebook spokeswoman said the research was conducted “to improve our services and to make the content people see on Facebook as relevant and engaging as possible”.
She added: “A big part of this is understanding how people respond to different types of content, whether it’s positive or negative in tone, news from friends, or information from pages they follow.”
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