The New Yorker:
It’s no secret that social media can affect your mood, making you experience certain feelings based on the information you see and the people you interact with. Those feelings are one of the reasons that people use sites like Facebook or Twitter to begin with. But what if you found out that what you felt was the result of a deliberate manipulation by the social network itself?
That’s at the heart of a controversy about a new study, in which researchers from Facebook manipulated the amount of positive and negative material in users’ news feeds in an attempt to see whether social networks can lead to the same kinds of “emotional contagion”—a person “catching” other people’s emotions from interacting with them—that exist in real life.
But understanding emotion is far more complex than looking for certain words—especially if those words are taken completely out of context, as they were in this study. “All they are looking at is the presence or absence of a single emotion word,” Elliot Berkman, a psychologist at the University of Oregon, whose research focusses on social and affective neuroscience, told me. To infer that someone is expressing or experiencing an emotion just because they use a particular word is “a huge leap,” he said. “I ate a Happy Meal,” for instance, could be flagged in the same way as “I ate a Happy Meal and it made me throw up,” which could, in turn, received the same flag as “So happy!” or “So happy???”
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