You are a Part of Psychological Experiments Unknowingly Performed on Facebook’s Users!

Just about every post you see from a business or media outlet throughout your daily news feed is a delicately crafted headline aimed at making you, the user, click. In full disclosure, I apologize for this article’s title as it was used for my own experiment tracking engagement exploring what catches your eye and draws you into reading a post. These sensationalist headlines we are so used to seeing are crafted with the purpose of creating some form of emotional response and reaction from the Facebook community. It’s an ongoing and evolving psychological experiment that has been used by marketers and the news media for decades. Never before has a platform like Facebook existed, to continue evolving and growing as the king of everything social, Facebook must also constantly experiment with its network (all of us) to learn how the masses like to interact.

On the RadioLab episode Trust Engineers, Andrew asks one of Facebook’s data scientists, “What is the statistical likelihood I have been a guinea pig in one of your experiments?” Their answer, “I believe, 100%!” At any given moment, a Facebook user could be subject to 10 or more ongoing social experiments at once. Does that make you feel a certain way, knowing that you’ve been a part of this giant social experiment? No need to fear, a large majority of these experiments done by Facebook’s data scientists are used to better enhance the user experience. But then this scary truth was revealed about a year ago…

Mind Control! Panic! Chaos! We are all Lab Rats!

Facebook’s Data Science Team is gifted with the fun task of turning the information created by the more than 800 million people who log on every day into usable scientific research. In mid 2014, news media outlets broke the news about Facebook taking 689,003 of its users in an experiment  to see what would happen if they altered user’s news feeds to gauge the effect on their emotions. You may remember seeing headlines such as Facebook Tinkers With Users’ Emotions in News Feed Experiment, Stirring Outcry, or how about Facebook Performed a Psychology Experiment on Thousands of Users Without Telling Them

The experiment assumed that users in a positivity-reduced condition should be less positive compared to their control and users in the negativity-reduced condition should be less negative. In total, over 3 million posts were analyzed, containing over 122 million words, 4 million of which were positive (3.6%) and 1.8 million negative (1.6%).

PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America) published the experiment titled, “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks“, it was stated that “Emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading them to experience the same emotions as those around them.” Simply put, the posts from your friends, either positive or negative, can directly impact your own emotional state. Before you get upset, just know that you agreed to this! This experiment was consistent with Facebook’s Data Use Policy, to which all users agree prior to creating an account on Facebook, constituting informed consent for this research.

Have you ever seen the result of negativity posted on the network and how it negatively affects a friend’s mood? I cannot tell you how often I come across a friend or acquaintance, who in our offline talks, complains about the negative content placed into their news feed by either their friends or the pages they follow. The scientific evidence is there as well as your own friends who you can test this theory on. Listen to your friend the next time they are talking about something within their Facebook feed.

There is no need to absorb this news and then storm Silicon Valley with your torches and pitchforks in hand. The news outlets use buzzwords referring to humans as “lab rats” and ambiguous titles to draw you in. They love to portray this negative image because they know the psychology of those within their network and their network thrives on negativity. What you need to do is absorb this news as a fact, quit with the denial, and learn to control your news feed as opposed to letting it control you.

What You Can Do as a Normal Facebook User:

How often do you come across negative content posted from your own friends? As opposed to simply managing the content provided within news feed, people would rather grumble and talk about how much they hate Facebook. Two minutes later, they are once again buried in their own smart phone, mindlessly scrolling away through today’s hot social topics, perpetually getting angrier and angrier at the negative content being fed to them. Don’t subject yourself to this!

Let’s say that you hate Steve. All Steve does is go on Facebook and post “Steve.” After a while, Steve’s actions become infuriating and what you can’t even wrap your head around is the hundreds of people who are liking Steve’s posts. It drives you completely mad that Steve has somehow attracted a network currently almost reaching 4,000 people.


As opposed to un-liking the page or un-friending the friend, people would just rather just complain about something as trivial as Steve. Sometimes, for whatever reason, you need to have a certain page liked or have friended a certain friend even though their posts are like poison to your soul. Simply use this small trick and never notice them again: click the top right corner of any post in your news feed and then either click “I don’t want to see this” or “Unfollow” and you will soon be on your way to a better Facebook experience and hopefully more positive mood.


Simple and effective, no more grumbling.

What You Can Do as a Social Marketer:

Over the years, I have consulted with many businesses in many different industries. I can talk with a business until I am blue in the face about Facebook’s Edge Rank, strategy, execution, and more but until that business understands the psychology behind their own network, they will never succeed at their online initiatives. What seems to be commonplace is that most business owners only want to focus on ROI being an instant tangible financial response to their online efforts as opposed to the ROI of the future long term benefits of meticulously creating and molding a loyal community of supporters.


Expert level social strategists know this and are patient. They take the time to study the network therefor learning how to better provide for their network. Think about this, take a look at Gordon Bombay in the movie the Mighty Ducks. He was tasked with the responsibility of turning the inexperienced District 5 hockey team into champions. If Gordon’s initial strategy to turn this team into champions was to gather all of the kids on the ice and then tell them to “Win” over and over again, chances are he would not get anywhere. A majority of the kids will more than likely get annoyed and leave the team before they even have had their first game.

Seems like a ridiculous strategy for success, doesn’t it? This however is the same strategy most adopt when implementing social initiatives for their own business. They gather a community of people all in one place and simply say “buy!” over and over in hopes of financially exploiting that network for personal gain. Where is the value in that?

Gordon Bombay prevailed in the film turning the uncoordinated and mismanaged District 5 hockey team into the Mighty Ducks, champions of their division. He did not do this by simply telling them “Win” over and over again, he spent time and worked with his team, learned their individual strengths and weaknesses, and not only taught his team about the game of hockey, but life itself.

That same sort of effort needs implemented and executed with your own social initiatives. Being patient and learning the psychology behind what your network actually wants and responds to is how you win. Providing for them and giving them what they want is the recipe for success. Think about what you’re posting from the perspective of the people within your network as opposed to that of your bank account. Learn how to provide for your network without focusing on the instant ROI and take the time to learn about how your network likes to think. Over time, you will be happy that you did.