The controversy surrounding Facebook's manipulation of users' news feeds with status updates that skewed positive or negative has broached various ethical issues associated with an online platform with mountains of data about its users and how that platform chooses to leverage that information. However, the whirlwind of criticism and accusations towards Facebook have shifted the focus away from the actual findings of the study: researchers at Cornell and UCSF determined that emotions displayed online were "contagious."
The study states that users who viewed positive updates on their news feeds indicated more positive emotions in themselves:
"When positive impressions were reduced, people produced fewer positive posts and more negative posts; when negative impressions were reduced, the opposite pattern occurred. These results indicate that emotions expressed by others on Facebook influence our own emotions, constituting experimental evidence for massive scale contagion via social networks."
Family, close friends, co-workers, college friends, and teammates are just a few of the various social circles in which we participate. The fact that people are able to be swayed by the updates of Facebook friends, many of whom the user has not spoken to in days, weeks, months, or even years is pretty remarkable. Even more interesting is that the influencers of emotions are online.
The authors of the study also assert that neither verbal or in person interaction is necessary to positively or negatively affect the emotions of others:
"This work also suggests that, in contrast to prevailing assumptions, in person interaction and non verbal cues, are not strictly necessary for emotional contagion, and that the observation of others' positive experiences constitutes a positive experience for people."
Facebook is a phenomenal way to keep in touch with people, particularly those who the user does not see or speak to frequently. As having a Facebook account becomes nearly ubiquitous, the number of "friends" continues to grow. The Facebook news feed is cluttered with the statuses of acquaintances, friends of friends, and people with whom the user has only a tenuous connection. The fact that we allow our emotions to be linked to the online updates of these people is problematic.
As we spend an increasing amount of time interacting with people through digital and electronic modes of direct and social communication, the medium (photo, video, text) and the audience (close friends, family, acquaintances) should always be considered.
The study should galvanize awareness of how we interact with others online and of the current state of our feelings at any given time, whether responding to emails and texts, loving a photo on Instagram, or checking Facebook. If the negative situation is trivial, ignore it. If it's not, try to help. Life is too short and too beautiful to let emotions be affected by the negativity of others.