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Emotional Contagion Spread Through Facebook 127

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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  • 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 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.
  • by sg3000 ( 87992 ) <sg_public@NOSpAM.mac.com> 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.

"Never face facts; if you do, you'll never get up in the morning." -- Marlo Thomas