Has Facebook been secretly studying your emotions?

It has emerged that Facebook has been conducting experiments on the psychology of users without their consent or knowledge. Would you be bothered if it was toying with your feelings?

If it isn't enough that Facebook is first to hear the news that you've been dumped, are going to a mate's party or have just got hitched, it now wants to discover if it can control your emotions.

The social networking giant has come under fire after it emerged it had carried out psychology experiments on its users without their permission.

In the secret study, involving nearly 700,000 users, Facebook manipulated the tone of users' news feeds to emphasise either the positive or negative posts received from their followers.

They then monitored the status updates of the social guinea pigs to see whether the adjustment made them happier or sadder, a process the academics carrying out the study for Facebook call "emotional contagion".

The study, which took place over a week in January 2012, 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."

So, in short, Facebook users receiving more positive news go on to share more upbeat news of their own, but those getting miserable updates unwittingly get on a one-way train to Grumpsville with their own posts.

And whether the updates are happy or sad, the mood spreads like wildfire from user to user. It's kind of like 28 Days Later, but with fewer flesh-eating maniacs and more miserable (or cheerful) emoticons.

Needless to say, internet privacy campaigners and politicians were not happy with the news, claiming that Facebook may have breached legal and ethical guidelines by not gaining consent from users prior to carrying out the experiment. Facebook users themselves have called the news "scandalous," "creepy," and "super-disturbing".

A Facebook spokeswoman said the research was carried out "to improve our services and 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."

While it may seem obvious that hearing depressing news can make you feel more depressed, it does highlight a potentially worrying situation where major global events could be manipulated or even incited by changes made to social media updates.

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