Facebook is Contagious

It’s been pretty well established that moods can spread from person to person when said people are in the same room—but what about online?

A new study published in PLOS One has found that people’s moods can indeed be spread online—a positive Facebook status update will provoke more positive updates, and negative status updates will provoke more negative updates. How’d they figure this out? By analysing over a billion status updates from the hundred most populous American cities from January 2009 to March 2012. Researchers didn’t need to actually view the content of any of the posts—rather, they relied on software called the Linguistic Inquiry Word Count, which measures the emotional content of any given post.

To measure change, researches relied on rainy weather. Rainy weather reliably changed the tone of Facebook posts, increasing the number of negative posts by 1.16 per cent and decreasing the number of positive posts by 1.19 per cent. Of course, the handy thing about relying on rain is that it can’t rain everywhere, so researchers would look at a negative post by a person in a rainy city and then look at that person’s friends in different cities. They found that, after seeing the negative post, negative posts amongst friends increased by 1.29 per cent.

According to the researchers, “It is possible that emotional contagion online is even stronger than we were able to measure. For our analysis, to get away from measuring the effect of the rain itself, we had to exclude the effects of posts on friends who live in the same cities. But we have a pretty good sense from other studies that people who live near each other have stronger relationships and influence each other even more. If we could measure those relationships, we would probably find even more contagion.”

So, is Facebook putting you in a bad mood? Take our advice: weed out your newsfeed. Block people who consistently annoy you, and boom, instant quality of life.

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