Jun 30, 2014 10:58AM

That Facebook Psychological Experiment Was Pointless

As well as ethically messed up.
So you might have heard that the evil overlords of Skynet Facebook have been all up in your news feed, manipulating content in over 600,000 users's feeds in a psychological experiment that aimed to measure changes in emotionally states. Aside from being extremely messed-up, ethically speaking, it looks like the now-famous two-year-old study was ultimately pointless too. The study says that by altering the news feeds of unwilling participants, Facebook could change the mood of the status of said users. Apparently, the positive feeds lead to positive status updates and likewise with the negative ones. 
But as some academics are now saying, there are some major flaws in the study. For one thing, the methodology used — the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count application (LIWC 2007) — was never designed to analyse small bits of text. Secondly, while the study was focussed on measuring emotional contagion, it only goes far enough to measure people's outward communication. As Dr John Grohol of Psych Central says, "They never went to Facebook users and had them fill out a mood questionnaire. Instead the authors were making strange judgement calls based on content of status updates to predict a user's mood," adding, "The correlations were so tiny that they're meaningless on an individual level." Gaging a user's actual mood is a totally different thing to gaging their behaviour. 
Tal Yarkoni, research associate at the University of Texas echoed the sentiment when he wrote a piece, largely defending the study, "The fact that users in the experimental conditions produced content with very slightly more positive or negative emotional content doesn't mean that those users actually felt any differently." So basically, the study told us what we already know — people are followers who copy each other constantly. Stop the press! What's more interesting are the (probs sinister) reasons behind the mass study. Oh Facebook, you distrustful, evil minx. You'll never be able to predict or influence mass outpourings like this one
Photos: Forbes/AFP/Tumblr