Facebook’s Emotion Experiment: Some Thoughts and Insights | DCR Workforce Blog

Facebook’s Emotion Experiment: Some Thoughts and Insights

facebook experimentsIn his novel ‘1984’; George Orwell conceived of Thought Police who could be watching everybody at all times by plugging into anyone’s wire whenever they wanted to. “People had to live in the assumption that every sound made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.

Now Facebook has made this a near reality by manipulating the emotions of nearly 700,000 persons in an experiment which used negative or positive posts to elicit a manipulated response. They determined that negative updates had a negative impact on the updates of others who read them. As a die-hard believer in ongoing education in life; I have derived the following insights from all the highly negative emotions raised by this whole issue: these results could apply to individuals as well as corporations and consultants.

  1. The fundamental difference between Orwell’s fictitious Thought Police and Facebook lies in the fact that somewhere, somehow everyone with a Facebook account must have volunteered, by saying ‘I agree’ to its Terms of Service. These terms include a clause indicating that the subscriber agrees to being subjected to psychological studies, promotions, marketing and research efforts it may have in mind for them.
  • Trust no one and protect yourself at all times. Read all small print twice and understand the implications of each and every clause. This should be the approach not just to social networks, but all agreements that we set our seal/signature upon.
  1. Our behavior, emotions and moods tend to impact those around us in a very contagious manner. This response is not only limited to social networks. Facebook (or anyone else) did not need to employ such risky (some would say unethical) methods to learn something that most of us already know. It is not as if Facebook would have earned a Ph.D. for this study!
  • Facebook now says it was only trying to make sure that its members did not turn away others from Facebook by their negative and depressing posts. Be positive and optimistic; whether at home or work! People with confidence achieve a lot more than people who lack in it! A negative mood will never help to improve one’s confidence. Corporations and their managers also, could create a more conducive work atmosphere and promote employee well-being through focused efforts to increase positive communications.
  1. For all those who were outraged when they heard about how Facebook manipulated their emotions and made them feel blue over the negative updates; there were an equal number of people who asked why such manipulation should come as a surprise! Apparently they knew all the while that they were getting manipulated by Facebook and advertisers alike!
  • If you are in the business of mapping people’s attitudes to understand how to drive their buying behavior, evaluate your target audience, and employ profiling methods that are not offensive to your targets.. If, as a subscriber to a service, you feel that the vendor is being intrusive, cancel your subscription.
  1. Is this just the tip of the iceberg, with many more such studies and manipulations seeing the light of day, as academic research or anything else?
  • One can argue that all advertising is a form of manipulation. Facebook offers an elective service – not one that is essential to our well-being or survival. Again, our participation is purely voluntary, so we should also be able to dissociate, if we wish to. I rest my case.

Are we heading for a world described by Orwell’s O’Brien when he claimed, “Never again will you be capable of ordinary human feeling. Everything will be dead inside you… You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty and then we shall fill you with ourselves.” And sell you our wares!

Since we do not really live in an Orwellian world; what will transpire out of this incident between Facebook and its subscribers? We have seen the government place limits on ways in which companies that gather large amounts of personal data can use that data. Will those restrictions be expanded to explicitly address actions similar to the Facebook study?

Please share your reactions!

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.