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Emotional Contagion Spread Through Facebook 127

Posted by Soulskill
from the your-opinions-are-my-opinions dept.
Daniel_Stuckey sends this quote from Motherboard: It hopefully doesn't come as a surprise that your friends shape who you are. But we tend to think of that on a micro level: If your close circle of friends tends to have tattoos, wear polo shirts, or say "chill" a lot, it's quite possible that you'll emulate them over time — and they'll emulate you too. But what happens on a macro scale, when your friend circle doesn't just include the dozen people you actually hang out with regularly, but also the hundreds or thousands of acquaintances you have online? All of those feeds may seem filled with frivolities from random people (and they are!) but that steady stream of life updates — photos, rants, slang — are probably shaping you more than you think. A massive Facebook study recently published in PNAS found solid evidence of so-called emotional contagion—emotional states spreading socially, like a virus made of emoji—on the social network.
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Emotional Contagion Spread Through Facebook

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  • by pubwvj (1045960) on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @12:14AM (#47260329)

    Turn them off,
    Tune them out.
    Stay sane.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @12:19AM (#47260341)

      Turn them off,
      Tune them out.
      Stay sane.

      My thoughts exactly.

    • by Beck_Neard (3612467) on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @12:58AM (#47260457)

      Yup. By the way, since this is bound to crop up: this doesn't mean "don't be social." You can be a perfectly healthy social human being without broadcasting your photos and your every emotion to the world. You can also have a facebook account and still stay sane: just restrict your use of the site to 1/2 times a week.

      • by rtb61 (674572)

        Now if only the majority of the interactions on Facebook were not fake social posings and more about raising friending numbers or selling products. This analysis might be of real significance, rather than just a amusing and interesting analysis of digital pretence. How the pseudo self image, the on line preferred reality avatar, similar in many ways to the MMO avator, except the MMO avatar is accepted as an illusion and the Facebook avatar is a masquerade pretending to be real, spreads elements of itself t

      • by Anonymous Coward

        You can also have a facebook account and still stay sane: just restrict your use of the site to 1/2 times a week.

        In some ways this is why I like weekly news magazines: there's a lot of noise and turbulence if you follow daily. If you get a weekly then only the main highlights are printed and the amount of drama is reduced.

        There's a lot of crap you don't have to worry about and that can just fall by the wayside.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @08:14AM (#47261545)

        You can also have a facebook account and still stay sane: just restrict your use of the site to 1/2 times a week.

        3.5 days still seems like a lot.

      • by ultranova (717540)

        You can be a perfectly healthy social human being without broadcasting your photos and your every emotion to the world.

        At least until employers decide that not having access to your private life is unacceptable, the state welfare system decides the same, and you get the choice of reporting all your doings and goings or starving to death under a bridge. Assuming the bridge hasn't collapsed from lack of maintenance, of course.

        Eat your heart out, East Germany.

      • You can also have a facebook account and still stay sane

        Nope, because Facebook is a scumbag company and privacy is important.

    • by Zontar The Mindless (9002) <plasticfish@info.gmail@com> on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @01:02AM (#47260481)

      About a year ago, keeping up with FB started to seem like a bit of a job, ain't nobody paying me to do it, and it has seldom if ever proved all that helpful or useful in ways that couldn't be accomplished via other, less intrusive, less annoying ways.

      Those "You have 532 messages" messages keep piling up in my Some Rainy Day... mail folder, and I keep finding other things to do than to log in to read them.

    • by physicsphairy (720718) on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @01:47AM (#47260617) Homepage

      Or set the tone yourself by posting words of encouragement. As someone who has never quite mastered the hug or unsolicited complement or prying into what's bothering people, I find the broadcast medium of facebook a means of providing what I can. I mostly post humor (which has helped me through dark times), mix in occasional inspiration quotes from people like Emerson, Longfellow, Thoreau, Kierkegaard, some art I find beautiful, and try to be open about my struggles and the good places they have lead.

      Over the years many have taken time to thank me for encouraging them (sometimes they are persons who have never interacted with me on facebook but eventually tell me in person), occasionally I receive a private message from someone who needs a friend, an ear, or advice, and other times they post something about their struggles and I am able to approach them about it. There is a lot to be said if you have the social skills to offer these things in person. But most of us are accustomed to the "Hi, how are you?" "Oh, I'm fine" routine where it is impolite to turn someone's general courtesy into a demand for their time and sympathy. The rules are different on social media, where all information is broadcast and can be ignored as easily as it is read. Why not let us introverts do something good with that?

      I don't know if I can claim credit in anyway, but over the years the character of what is posted among my peers on facebook has definitely become more positive. Perhaps people have simply realized they don't enjoy the drama and the complaining. Or maybe a few of us have had an impact. But this study seems to show that having a positive impact is something you can set out to do. Pursuing that may be worth considering.

      • Or set the tone yourself by posting words of encouragement. As someone who has never quite mastered the hug or unsolicited complement or prying into what's bothering people, I find the broadcast medium of facebook a means of providing what I can. I mostly post humor (which has helped me through dark times), mix in occasional inspiration quotes from people like Emerson, Longfellow, Thoreau, Kierkegaard, some art I find beautiful, and try to be open about my struggles and the good places they have lead.

        That's not bad in small doses, but rarely posting an original thought is pretty annoying. At this point, it seems like some of my Facebook friends can only convey thoughts by sharing somebody else's someecards.

    • by DNS-and-BIND (461968) on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @01:50AM (#47260629) Homepage
      Unfortunately, this doesn't work. Today's under 25 crowd thinks failure to have a facebook account is automatically suspicious. What are you trying to hide? If you're not proud of broadcasting your life, then either you have a pathetic life you should be embarrassed of, or you're some kind of deviant or criminal. Law enforcement thinks so, too.
      • by epyT-R (613989) on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @02:42AM (#47260735)

        and so therefore? what? we should all rush out and get accounts so that teenagers won't think we are losers? ..so that the cops won't SWAT our dogs for traffic violations? I see little reason to appease today's generation's acceptance of the police state mentality.

        You let teenagers dictate your life parameters?

        • by fazig (2909523)
          And so therefore what?
          I'm 31 now, work as an engineer in an university lab. I'm not a nerd without a backbone, sitting in his parents basement, who is bullied by the popular kids in school. Most of my colleges and virtually all of my friends, none of them younger than 27, use Facebook. Since they all graduated in computer science or some field of information technology, they should know better about the security and privacy concern that come with using Facebook, but they use it anyway. It's simply too conv
          • by retchdog (1319261)

            are we supposed to actually believe that your 'friends' at the university lab never speak to one another in person and just stare at their phones all day? and that all of your attempts to communicate verbally with these people are met with these oddly-worded rebuffs? if that's actually true (it isn't, of course), then fuck 'em.

            you sound like an insecure, whiny loser. maybe that's the real problem here. people are lazy and fragile; your 'friends' are just using the facebook thing as an excuse to avoid intera

            • by fazig (2909523)
              Facebook is mostly used for communicating over a distance. But it's also things like the release of our upcoming schedule. It's not done per eMail or the other "old ways" like google docs, any more, they do it in Facebook groups. So I either have to ask someone else to forward that information to me or hope that they communicate it in 'compatible ways', which is done via XMPP. But it's odd somehow, since I'm the only one, besides the Professors, who requires this. Things I'm missing out on are some memes an
              • by epyT-R (613989)

                Memes and youtube video links are more important than your privacy? w t f ? If those so-called adults had considerable intellect, they'd realize just how shitty facebook/whatsapp et al are compared to other available systems and avoid them. Intelligent people do not fall for the newer is always better paradigm. A bunch of my friends do use facebook, but since they're my friends, they understand why I don't use the site or sites like it. We all end up running multiple networks to chat with people who ar

          • by epyT-R (613989)

            Since they all graduated in computer science or some field of information technology, they should know better about the security and privacy concern that come with using Facebook, but they use it anyway. It's simply too convenient for them as a platform for communication with local friends and people that you can't meet on a regular basis, and since "everyone" is using it why not use it yourself? After all you know when to shut up about private things...

            So, they trade their privacy for convenience, probably unmindful of the consequences. This is exactly what I was talking about.

            If you and your friends' concept of online privacy is "just don't say private things online", none of you know better. You have it backwards: people don't know when to shut up about private things. You might, most of the time. Your friends might, most of the time, and in the past, a slip up might mean a few dozen people find out the secret. With facebook all it takes is one tim

            • by fazig (2909523)

              So, they trade their privacy for convenience, probably unmindful of the consequences. This is exactly what I was talking about.

              If you and your friends' concept of online privacy is "just don't say private things online", none of you know better. You have it backwards: people don't know when to shut up about private things.

              It was sarcasm on my part. But you're right it's exactly the reason why I don't want to use Facebook. I know from experience just how easy it is to let something slip, and once it is on the internet you can't undo it, especially not on Facebook where it is tied to your virtual persona. Another problem here is that you don't even need to have an account there, all it takes is to have some friends who use it and post stuff about you.
              Facebook isn't the focal point, there's plenty of other stuff to talk about.

      • by vux984 (928602) on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @04:15AM (#47260899)

        Today's under 25 crowd thinks failure to have a facebook account is automatically suspicious

        Maybe its already passing its time. You said 'under 25 crowd' but I suspect that it doesn't go much younger than 18 or 20.

        My kids are heading into middle school and high school and neither want anything to with facebook (which I admit I've encouraged). Some of their friends do have accounts, others don't, and nobody seems to think its really cool or a big deal. For those that have them its becoming where they go to see the pictures of grandma's birthday that their mom posted. Because what teen doesn't want to see pictures of grandma turning 82.

        The 20-30 crowd still seems a lot more facebook engaged though... for now at least.

        • Yup, and then when they finish school they'll realize their friend circle is shrinking and the only place to find them is bars and at work. All of a sudden Facebook is cool again.

          Facebook isn't cool with the really youngins because it's cool with the older adults. The same stuff hits everyone though and all they have to do if they don't want you touching theirs is set permissions.
      • by Jarik C-Bol (894741) on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @06:28AM (#47261199)

        What are you trying to hide?

        Everything. Nothing I do is anyone else's business, unless I deem it so.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Nope. Not being on facebook has never caused me any trouble. The closest might be companies that have a "facebook page" instead of a webpage, and you need facebook yourself to access it because they want a "LIKE" from you. But in such cases, I always think "their loss, not mine!" So far, there has always been enough competent competitors to such businesses. Competitors seeing that it is not wise to artifically limit their business to the (large) subset who uses facebook. They get a 5% extra market share sim

      • by pubwvj (1045960)

        I'll take "Deviant Criminal" for 25 bonus points.

    • Or... only add people on them who you actually like and trust, instead of a hundred people you barely know. What a revolutionary concept.
    • So what do I do now? - All my friends (and enemies) are on slashdot....
    • by argStyopa (232550)

      Ironically, then, my own touch of Asperger's has probably inoculated me against this particular contagion (and is likely broadly true for others).

      Yes, I have an fb account because it's the only way my kids band directors communicate schedules. /sigh.

      But fb is the global scale version of trivia, meaningless social interaction for its own sake, and the sort of insane Smalltalk that absolutely drives me nuts.

  • by O('_')O_Bush (1162487) on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @12:17AM (#47260335)
    So given that I post lots of stuff but do not read stuff in the feed, that means I am the sole originator of lots of contagions?

    Kindof badass.
  • Um...is anyone on Slashdot still on Facebook? Can't think of the last time anyone I work with went there...

    • Um...is anyone on Slashdot still on Facebook?

      Yes.

      I enjoy the occasional updates from people I can no longer meet daily, as well as some insight into the current day-to-day affairs of my home country. I don't post often, but when I do have something to say, normally several people show interest.

      Facebook is no longer an unfiltered pile of Farmville requests. Especially if you take the time just once to mark your close friends and to unfollow the obsessive narcissists. Its ranking and personalization algorithms also help.

      Also, it is often the easiest way

  • by Anonymous Coward

    It's a common thing that very much predates social networks.

  • This just underscores the tribal nature of human beings. We're not so different from the homo sapiens of 50,000 years ago.

    • Primate predator bands who enjoy a good gossip when taking breaks from throwing shit at each other. Yep, that's us, pretty much.

  • It would be surprising if they found otherwise. We've had many examples of things like that in the past. One that comes to mind is Diana's death and the unreasonable mass grief and hysteria that came with it. The only difference now is the scale and pervasiveness of the contagion..

  • Science fiction (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sir-gold (949031) on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @01:01AM (#47260475)

    There was an incredibly depressing book I once read that talked about something very similar, except it was a social contagion that caused hive-mind behavior (the book called it "the meme"), and the only way to "cure" it was to erase every memory the person had formed since being exposed to the meme

    In the book, the entire earth is "infected" with it, and the only non-memed people lived on an isolated moon base (which is where the book takes place)

    I tried to find the author or the name of the book on Google, but had no luck

    • by sir-gold (949031)

      I sure wish slashdot had an edit button.....

      Anyways, The author is John Barnes, and the book was part of the "Meme Wars" series

    • There was an incredibly depressing book I once read that talked about something very similar, except it was a social contagion that caused hive-mind behavior (the book called it "the meme"), and the only way to "cure" it was to erase every memory the person had formed since being exposed to the meme

      In the book, the entire earth is "infected" with it, and the only non-memed people lived on an isolated moon base (which is where the book takes place)

      I tried to find the author or the name of the book on Google, but had no luck

      There are several books that cause such social contagion "hive-mind" behavior, the most popular being The Bible and The Koran.

  • ...Really? They decided to use that acronym?
  • parasitical (Score:5, Insightful)

    by epyT-R (613989) on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @01:19AM (#47260523)

    'social' media is a parasitical emergent phenomenon. It requires people to compusively use it in order to maintain itself, and it does this by triggering the reward system for social interaction while it is really anything but social. Even IRC is more social than facebook. The only winning move is not to play.

    The fact that it enables trends which normally scale to one circle of friends to go global is not a surprise.

  • Big deal. Just because people on Facebook tend to post like their Facebook friends, there is no reason to conclude that they continue with that "emotional contagion" of Obama memes and cats and whatnot once they switch to another tab or turn off their computer. A Facebook study can only tell what people do on Facebook anyway.

  • "the dozen people you actually hang out with regularly" jeezus, who has time to hang out with that many people regularly? Unless work counts i guess.
  • ...As has the number of chars allowed in the Subject Line.

    but also the hundreds or thousands of acquaintances you have online?

    I have never used Twitter. I have a Facebook account to keep track of people I actually know, mostly old frieds, mybe 50 at most. I do not Facebook with people at work.

    The definition of "acquaintance" seems to have changed since I grew up. To me, someone I have never met in human form, nor had any significant conversation with either in person or "on line", is not an "acquaintance".

    Luddite Rube, you say? OK, as you say... Involved with professionally

  • by preaction (1526109) on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @02:54AM (#47260761)

    So the "Empathy Box" from "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" is real? And now?

    • by sg3000 (87992) <[moc.cam] [ta] [cilbup_gs]> on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @11:42AM (#47263295)

      So the "Empathy Box" from "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" is real? And now?

      Ok, you just blew my mind.

      I remember never quite getting the whole "empathy box" idea in the book. It seemed unlikely and quite foreign. But you're right: that's what Facebook is. People sharing their good and bad news in order to participate in some group emotion. And, just like Rick's wife was "addicted" to it, lots of people were addicted to checking Facebook (at least for a while, the interest in Facebook seems to have waned). So Philip K. Dick was prescient about that after all.

  • I could have told you years ago
    Facebook is a disease.

  • ...I avoid the "reply all" button in email, and I don't respond to writing on bathroom walls.

    I still do Slashdot, Flickr, webmail, torrents, all without any concern about social dis-ease or VD from sucking a Fuckface on Twatter.
  • I work at airasia [airasiavietnam.vn]. I think it's true. So that, we could share positive things. The world will be better.
  • You're a node in a network of douches. It's nothing personal.

  • 26 year old here. No facebook for 3 years.

    Though, I'll admit that I am not the average consumer.
  • by oursland (1898514) on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @08:34AM (#47261619)
    Sounds like they discovered how cultures are developed, maintained, and grow. Next up they may study how social bonds are formed and maintained, perhaps they'll call it "friendship", but more likely they'll refer to it as some sort of "preferential social virus reinforcement."
    • I was going to mod you up but decided to reply instead. While I didn't, of course, RTFA, showing that these sorts of phenomena happen in virtuo is not something that has always been accepted. For example, 15 years ago socio-linguists were still maintaining that a physical presence was necessary and TV wasn't sufficient for the spread of new expressions and pronunciations (though "priming" was thought to occur...). TV isn't social media but there are a lot of old fogeys still in academia with positively ridi

  • Your friends do not shape who you are. That may be true for a certain type of person but not for many others. I've had friends that were really bad people in areas that had nothing to do with how they related to me. I do know that there are some people who depend upon social contacts to make a living and that does make them vulnerable. But if your financial condition has nothing to do with people that you associate with then you don't tend to get sucked into their darker deeds or habits.
  • by EmagGeek (574360)

    "when your friend circle doesn't just include the dozen people you actually hang out with regularly, but also the hundreds or thousands of acquaintances you have online"

    To me, these are the same people, and it's more like "tens" of people. I don't have online "friends" that aren't my friends in real life.

  • by jpellino (202698) on Wednesday June 18, 2014 @09:43AM (#47262101)
    I would wager the effect noted in the study has a mode somewhere below age 22. Given the adolescent search for identity, the typical middle/high school - even college - is basically an emotional tuberculosis ward. You know, the old kind where they would try anything - open windows, giant bowls of ice and fans - to try and cool things off and stem the epidemic. Most of which doesn't work. What does work is making their media experience symmetric for consumption and production. Give them a way to express themselves in original work and you'd be stunned by the diversity of thought. Their technology of choice - mobile devices - is still heavily weighted towards content consumption. The ability to "share" - the only real innovation in the recent past - does not make them true producers, but mostly reflectors. Better and more accessible content creation on popular devices is the key. Yes, they will first mimic what they've seen in media - their spin on some favorite story - but that will be dropped after a while - and is really no different from what the pros do - the vast majority of noob filmmakers and writers are doing their spin on a genre or the dreaded mashup pitch "it's The Godfather meets Armageddon!" and then they need a second thing to do and originality rears its hydra-like heads.
  • I've decided that it's the best band name I've heard all hour.
    • by Quirkz (1206400)

      I keep a running list of potential band names. Here are a few for your continued enjoyment:

      * Meatyocrity
      * No Shit Sherlock
      * Indecipherable Mumbling
      * Spoiler Alert
      * Redacted
      * Blurbing Stack

  • Richard Dawkins coined the term "meme" back in 1976... it describes exactly the same fracking concept.

  • Is this not the same thing as fashion? Why is anyone surprised by the same effect, just because it's online?

  • Set up facebook....link to a sacrificial email account. Offer as little personal data as you can (make 'em work for it) and then post a new pic of your kid once a year like I do for gandma. Never, ever bother to check it more than once a year, and never go back to the dummy email you set up.
  • Is this not the same as reading and commenting on Slashdot, on a daily basis? Since Slashdot was introduced to me, I think more kindly of Linux and, boy, do I hate Microsoft.
  • by NewYork (1602285)
    "You are a product of your environment." --Clement Stone

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