Facebook: stats on positive and negative posts

Last Friday (June 27) I noticed a post on Scoop.it by the Dutch TV programme ‘Tegenlicht’. The headline read “Facebook tinkered with users’ feeds for a massive psychology experiment”. Maybe nice to use for a science section of a large Dutch news website. Research is research.

Quickly I skimmed the article on Avclub.com where scoop.it pointed to. Maybe interesting. Maybe not.

Click. The article itself on PNAS. I am not a statistician, but I learned when P < 0.05 than it is statistically significant.*

Scrolling through the article, I see some significant values, but the conclusion reads:

“Although these data provide, to our knowledge, some of the first experimental evidence to support the controversial claims that emotions can spread throughout a network, the effect sizes from the manipulations are small (as small as d = 0.001). These effects nonetheless matter given that the manipulation of the independent variable (presence of emotion in the News Feed) was minimal whereas the dependent variable (people’s emotional expressions) is difficult to influence given the range of daily experiences that influence mood (10). More importantly, given the massive scale of social networks such as Facebook, even small effects can have large aggregated consequences (14, 15): For example, the well-documented connection between emotions and physical well-being suggests the importance of these findings for public health. Online messages influence our experience of emotions, which may affect a variety of offline behaviors. And after all, an effect size of d = 0.001 at Facebook’s scale is not negligible: In early 2013, this would have corresponded to hundreds of thousands of emotion expressions in status updates per day.”

And, even more important in my case, the publication date:

Published online before print June 2, 2014, doi:10.1073/pnas.1320040111

PNAS June 17, 2014 vol. 111 no. 248788-8790

This means it’s been roaming on the Internet since the second of June. Ah well, let’s just skip it, I probably just missed it.

Not. Everybody missed it. And in my humble opinion, it shouldn’t have caused the amount of attention it received since this weekend. It’s interesting, seeing how things work behind the scenes of one of the largest empires Earth has ever seen, but this is just a glimpse and a tiny one.

Why is the world so surprised? It makes no sense at all. It would be surprising if companies which use data and can manipulate it, would not use it, for better or worse.

In this case its results were published. Openly.

Open Access Logo

The question which should be addressed is the following: why is it not mandatory that companies which aren’t ‘companies’ in the old sense of the word, because they serve the world in a way public institutions would, have to list their experiments openly. All experiments. Just like universities and other knowledge institutions (should) do.

Open Access.

*or at least should be, considering all variables are ok, etc. etc.


Krijn Soeteman is a Dutch science and technology journalist. He majored in the history of art and architecture. After his studies he started as a music video producer. This led to producing a Museum Night at the NEMO Science Museum, which eventually led to science journalism. And much more.

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