SAN ANSELMO, CA - MAY 09: The Facebook website is displayed on a laptop computer on May 9, 2011 in San Anselmo, California. An investigation by The Pew Research Center found that Facebook has become a player in the news industry as the popular social media site is driving an increasing amount of traffic to news web sites. (Photo Illustration by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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Facebook has been in the news a lot in recent weeks. Stock price increase, advertising methods, and information about Facebook users have all been under scrutiny. But Facebook now has a new challenge pending.

Facebook scientists have allegedly been using you as guinea pigs for an experiment to see if they can change your thinking based on the posts they are allowing you to see on your Facebook page.

The Significance of The Study

Here is a quote from the research study:

“We show, via a massive (N = 689,003) experiment on Facebook, that emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness. We provide experimental evidence that emotional contagion occurs without direct interaction between people (exposure to a friend expressing an emotion is sufficient), and in the complete absence of nonverbal cues.”

What Does All This Mean To You?

It means that you may have been one of the 600,000 plus people who were put into the study without your knowledge. Part of the group received only “positive” posts on their Facebook page while the other part received only “negative” posts. The responses of those receiving the posts were tracked and cataloged.

They were trying to prove that emotions could be contagious leading people to experience those same emotions without their knowledge.

Facebook’s Policies

Anyone who’s on Facebook at all knows they make changes all the time. Mostly bad ones. But they do have a Data Use Policy that in so many words says, “We’ve got a right to do anything we want with the stuff you post.”

While Facebook users do give Facebook a lot of leeway, and permission, they don’t give their consent to be used as laboratory rats in a maze. Here is another finding from this study…

“Emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading them to experience the same emotions as those around them. Emotional contagion is well established in laboratory experiments in which people transfer positive and negative moods and emotions to others. Similarly, data from a large, real-world social network collected over a 20-y period suggests that longer-lasting moods (e.g., depression, happiness) can be transferred through networks as well.”

In other words, selected Facebook posts can influence you to be happy or sad without your even experiencing those feelings prior to the post.

The Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects

Yes, believe it or not, there is a Federal policy called, “The Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects,” that protects those where are involved in studies and experiments. According to Cornell University, the Facebook experiment did not fall under this policy because the researcher was analyzing a pre-existing dataset and because there was no federal funding used in the study.

Some Final Thoughts

As more information comes to light about this study the more confident we all are in our “Big Brother” paranoia. Are our own thoughts really our own anymore? Is everything we see, read or hear forcing us in a direction we don’t wish to go; but go anyway because of the emotional impressions that are provided to us? What do you think — or can you?

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