Facebook and Your Friends' Feelings
Reading your Facebook news feed may do more than keep you up to date. It may also influence the emotional state of your status updates – and that will affect your friends as well.
To reach that conclusion, social scientists at Cornell University, the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), and Facebook, studied the news feed of 689,003 randomly selected Facebook users. In their experiment, they controlled the news feed of the users to add more negative stories or more positive stories.
“People who had positive content experimentally reduced on their Facebook news feed, for one week, used more negative words in their status updates,” reports Jeff Hancock, professor of communication at Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and co-director of its Social Media Lab. “When news feed negativity was reduced, the opposite pattern occurred: Significantly more positive words were used in peoples’ status updates.”
It’s already known that emotional contagion exists in real-world situations – that interacting with a happy person makes you feel better, while talking with a grumpy person can make you feel grumpy yourself. But this is the first study to suggest that interactions in social media have the same effect.
The findings were published in (Proceedings of the National Academy of Science) Social Science.
Under Facebook’s data use policy, researchers never saw the actual content of posts but merely counted the occurrence of positive and negative words in more than 3 million posts. They saw 122 million words in both news feed stories and status updates. Four million of those words were positive and 1.8 million were negative.
Hancock said peoples’ emotional expressions on Facebook predicted their friends’ emotional expressions, even days later.
“This observation, and the fact that people were more emotionally positive in response to positive emotion updates from their friends, stands in contrast to theories that suggest viewing positive posts by friends on Facebook may somehow affect us negatively,” he added. “In fact, this is the result when people are exposed to less positive content, rather than more.”
Facebook has 1.3 billion users.