The Facebook Study Can Be Useful

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Confirming The Power of Words

For many years I (and many others) have been citing the immense power the words we hear and read have–with a tremendous effect on our consciousness.  This is one of the reasons, even as a former broadcast journalist, I have suggested watching, listening, or reading the news every day can be harmful to our mental health. Primarily because, in order to build large audiences, news media tends to focus on negative, violent, tragic news. This can tilt one’s view of the world, and even create the attitude, “If the world is so rotten, why should I bother to make it a better place?”

There’s been an uproar in recent days after it was revealed that for one week in 2012, Facebook, without telling anyone, fed positive postings or negative postings only to about 700,000 of its one billion members. The cries of “Invasion of privacy!” have been shouted, but I think there’s some missing of the point here, perhaps due to some widespread paranoia about the influence and data gathering of the large online entities like FB, Google, and Amazon. Yes, they know more about us than they probably should, and this should be regulated to some degree. So far, however, the most evil use this data has been put to is to try to sell us the latest new weight loss fad, etc.

The response to the experiment was then given to researchers at Cornell University, who came to the following conclusion.

“Emotions expressed by others on Facebook influence our own emotions, constituting experimental evidence for massive-scale contagion via social networks.”

In other words, what our FB friends send out has an emotional impact which can lead to a widespread up or down mood. No kidding! As to not telling the people involved, I doubt it would have worked if everyone knew their news feeds and timelines were being tampered with.  This is one case where I think the means justifies the means. Apologies have been issued, so it’s time to get a grip and get a life.

I have, over the past few years, unfriended several folks on FB who tended to rant, rave, whine, and pontificate about how terrible the world is. Life is challenging enough without having to put up with an avalanche of negative verbal energy. I sometimes worry about people who don’t have the sense of humor I do. Of course, we feel bad if a close friend is suffering, but we don’t need a play-by-play of every symptom for days on end, so that we have the same emotional reaction as if it were happening to us. I don’t think this is what empathy is supposed to be about.

While I agree there are too many adorable cat photos and videos on FB, no one ever got depressed watching a playful kitten. And don’t get me started in the opposite direction with all the reports of torturing of dogs, cats, and sometimes even people.

What does this have to do with my main topic on this blog, how to have a more prosperous, happier, meaningful and fulfilled life?  A lot, as the words we surround ourselves with act as an army of support in our efforts to make life better for ourselves and others. For most people I know, life is basically good. Perhaps this has something to do with the choices I’ve made as to who to bring into my circle. I do this out in the world, and I am trying to do the same on social media. It makes life a lot easier.

Because of who I am and the books I’ve written and  philosophy I’ve taught for over 40 years, I do tend to attract hopeful, optimistic, upbeat people into my sphere of influence. I feel blessed this is so. If Facebook’s transgression on our privacy rights helps make more people aware of the importance of this, then I’m all for it.           

Jerry

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