A recent experiment carried out by Facebook has caused concern amongst social media users. The secret study conducted on over 600,000 users was designed to see how users’ emotions were affected by the content displayed on their newsfeed.
The results are simple: If a user’s friends are posting positive statuses than the user is more likely to post a positive status or vice versa. Not only are real smiles contagious but so are virtual smiles.
Why are people concerned?
While the study seems quite simple, people are concerned that possibility of being manipulated through their newsfeed. The study was conducted without the knowledge of the participants which leads to further fear that users will be targeted without their knowledge. The biggest concern many highlighted is the risk of this being used in political campaigns.
Emotional manipulation has been used since the beginning of advertising. Appeals to fear are often used to change behaviour in campaigns such as anti-smoking or anti-drink driving. Ads for charities aim to inspire the opportunity to make a difference. Appealing to emotions, whether they be happiness, fear or love change behaviours.
Should we worry?
It is instinctive for people to be concerned. The thought of being manipulated without knowing it seems plain wrong. However, it’s important to remember that people are already subjected to this kind of manipulation through traditional media platforms. The term manipulation carries negative connotations but the motives behind this type of marketing or advertising is not always sinister.
Users should always look for the truth when making decisions. Ask yourself why you hold a certain belief and if you aren’t sure than perhaps some further research will help to clarify your understanding. For example, if you have a particular belief about a political figure try to uncover how you came to that conclusion. Is it based on the beliefs of friends or family or social media? Developing this understanding and forming opinions based on research will help you to regain control.
For further information check out Soshable’s article here.
Image: Brittany Herself