IS FACEBOOK WATCHING YOU?

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We’ve all been there – scrolling through our Facebook news feed and there’s that one ‘friend’ who manages to moan or complain about every tiny detail in their life. Whether it’s the breakdown of their latest relationship, their boss from hell giving them a hard time, or simply missing the train that morning, they manage to turn everything into a mini serial drama and, thanks to the power of social media, we all get to share in their woes. Of course, we could hit the delete button on these so-called ‘friends’, but something makes us hang on to them a little longer.

We’d be kidding ourselves if we said that our friends’ status updates – positive or negative – didn’t affect us in one way or another. It’s little wonder that the social networking giant has today come under fire for carrying out what has been dubbed as a ‘creepy’ experiment, to manipulate users’ emotions.

Facebook bosses teamed up with two American universities to secretly alter 700,000 people’s news feeds to study the impact of ‘emotional contagion’ – they wanted to find out whether emotions expressed in status updates affected users’ own moods. Interestingly,when ‘positive emotional content’ from friends was reduced, users were more likely to post negative thoughts themselves. Likewise, the opposite happened when ‘negative emotional content’ was toned down.

Politicians, lawyers and online experts have slammed the study and called for an investigation into how social networking sites are able to manipulate their members in this way. Of course, Facebook played down the experiment’s significance and confirmed it was in line with its data using policy.

While this is an interesting study which gives us a good insight into just how much we allow social media to impact our lives, I’m tempted to question how new all of this is – surely, we could figure out for ourselves that a barrage of smiley statuses from our friends is going to make us feel happier? This, combined with the fact Facebook was able to modify over half a million users’ news feeds – without their knowledge – begs the question of what they will do next?

Advertisers are already able to target us for specific products based solely on our online profiles, so it’s difficult to imagine what’s left for the rest to analyse. Perhaps our photographs or private messages reveal something within our sub-conscious that can be used to manipulate us? If they do, it may be that we find ourselves as unsuspecting participants in Facebook’s next ‘study’!