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Facebook defends decision to manipulate news feeds in secret mood-altering experiment

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By John Glenday, Reporter

June 30, 2014 | 2 min read

Facebook has defended its decision to secretly run a psychological test, which saw it manipulate the news feeds of 689,000 users as part of a secret mood altering experiment.

The social media giant came under fire for the decision from protesters which accused it of seeking to toy with people’s emotions by filtering comments, videos, pictures and links posted by friends in order to influence whether that person felt happier or sadder - a process it dubbed ‘emotional contagion’.

This saw unwitting participants subjected to either a reduced flow of positive posts, resulting in fewer positives posts of their own, or a torrent of negative messages – which fuelled a parallel rise in self-penned negativity.

Commenting on the initiative researchers concluded: “Emotions expressed by friends, via online social networks, influence our own moods, constituting, to our knowledge, the first experimental evidence for massive-scale emotional contagion via social networks."

A Facebook spokesperson defended the work, saying it had been authorised as a means to “improve our services and to make the content people see on Facebook as relevant and engaging as possible.

"A big part of this is understanding how people respond to different types of content, whether it's positive or negative in tone, news from friends, or information from pages they follow."

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