Facebook, Sentiment Analysis, and Emotional Contagion

Sentiment analysis and emotional contagion are nothing new, but Facebook’s recent research study, dubbed by the media the “emotion manipulation” study has launched heated debates regarding the accuracy of the research and the ethics of performing experiments on people without their knowledge or consent. Sentiment analysis is the study of positive and negative words in communication and has been employed in various fields, including traditional and social media marketing, brand analysis, poll predicting, and even dream analysis. In today’s big-data-driven world, algorithms are used to analyze text in an effort to distinguish what emotions are behind the words. As the algorithms improve, the analysis will as well, but some argue that the algorithms are far from where they need to be for accurate analysis. Recently, Facebook conducted a sentiment analysis on possible emotional contagion via status messages. Emotional contagion has been theorized for centuries and continues to be researched heavily by modern psychologists such as Elaine Hatfield of the University of Hawaii, who states that emotional contagion, “may tell us something about the awesome contemporary power of celebrityhood and of the mass media as these agencies of large-scale emotional and cognitive contagion continue to expand their capacities to define reality for billions of people.” However, the media and thousands of Facebook users were not convinced that Facebook’s expanded capacities were worth their feeds being “manipulated” to mine and influence their emotional responses. The controversy stems from how Facebook used sentiment analysis to perform research into emotional contagion, whether their findings were scientifically accurate, and whether they violated peoples’ rights. It all began with a simple study, made public back...