A new study has found that posting a happy or sad Facebook status increases the chances your friends will do the same.
Hearing a happy story or talking to a friend who is having a hard time can make anyone feel energised. Similarly, a sad story can make a friend feel down. According to new research from Facebook, Yale and the University of California, the same applies even when feelings are only shared online.
It seems that on Facebook, as in life, moods really are contagious. The study published in scientific journal PLOS ONE found that rainy days were more likely to produce higher numbers of sad Facebook statuses than others – even if those statuses weren’t about the weather. That seems to make sense, since poor weather can often have a direct effect on people’s mood.
What was particularly interesting was the impact these statuses had on friends based elsewhere, even in locations where the weather was fine. For every negative post from someone in a rainy location, friends in drier areas posted 1.29 more negative statuses than would otherwise be expected.
Yet it isn’t all doom and gloom -positive sentiments can be spread online as well. Happy statuses were even more infectious. For every positive status, an extra 1.75 were generated among the user’s immediate friends!
Facebook has as many as 1.2 billion users, and with this online community becoming more connected in more complex ways than ever before, researchers are already considering the ways in which news and moods will travel and affect the offline world.
Dr James Fowler, lead author of the study and political scientists at the University of California San Diego, told the Wall Street Journal that the impact of sentiments being spread on social media could be huge.
“It is going to have implications for financial markets, which have bubbles and busts, and it has implications for political activity,” he said.
Researchers have attempted to study how social media can affect behaviour and emotions many times in the past, but often there is not enough available data to make it possible. Social networks are often reluctant to share personal information from their users, which is why Facebook had some of its own staff handle the data.
As more studies are being carried out into the ways that social media is reshaping the way we communicate, it looks like it may have a much bigger impact than we might have imagined.
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