Facepalm
June 30, 2014
CC by: Dimitris Kalogeropoylos

On Sunday, Facebook sort of apologized for manipulating the news feeds of 689,003 randomly selected users, all for the purpose of science. For a week in January 2012, Facebook researchers secretly funneled either more positive or negative stories into the selected news feeds, then watched to see how the users reacted in their own posts.

The results, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences earlier this month, are actually pretty interesting: Moods are contagious, even over social networks. Or as the researchers put it:

When positive expressions were reduced, people produced fewer positive posts and more negative posts; when negative expressions were reduced, the opposite pattern occurred. These results indicated that emotions expressed by others on Facebook influence our own emotions, constituting experimental evidence for massive-scale contagion via social networks. [PNAS]

If the findings are interesting, the methodology is pretty controversial. Facebook argues that it has the right to do this under that terms of service agreement you didn't read when you signed up, but academic social scientists are supposed to get "informed consent" from the subjects. There was also some more gut-level revulsion at the idea of Facebook manipulating people's feelings — here's privacy activist Lauren Weinstein:

After the PNAS study began to get noticed, Adam Kramer, the Facebook employee who conducted it with two researchers from Cornell and UC San Francisco, tried to explain himself on (where else?) Facebook:

We felt that it was important to investigate the common worry that seeing friends post positive content leads to people feeling negative or left out. At the same time, we were concerned that exposure to friends' negativity might lead people to avoid visiting Facebook.... My coauthors and I are very sorry for the way the paper described the research and any anxiety it caused. [Facebook]

The world's largest social network has long shaped what its users see: When you log in, Facebook shows you about 300 of the 1,500 items that might show up on your news feed, determined by a closely guarded algorithm. "Facebook didn't do anything illegal, but they didn't do right by their customers," Gartner analyst Brian Blau tells The New York Times. Caveat emptor.

Watch this
2:36 p.m. ET
Screenshot / NBC

If President Obama had The Rock's build, he would have a much easier time getting Republicans to do what he wants. Or, at least, he would have a much easier time tossing them out windows and ripping off their limbs when they made him angry, as was the case in this Saturday Night Live sketch featuring Dwayne Johnson as "The Rock Obama."

"Don't be alarmed," Johnson says after some maddening Republican subversion causes him to hulk out and rip through his suit. "The Rock Obama much like Barack Obama, only larger and more violent." —Jon Terbush

2016 Watch
1:45 p.m. ET
Scott Olson / Getty Images

Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina on Sunday crept closer to a White House bid, saying in an interview with Fox News there is a "higher than 90 percent" chance she will run.

"As other potential candidates are doing, we need to make sure we have the right team in place, that we have the right support," she said, adding that an announcement would likely come in late April or early May.

A political neophyte, Fiorina ran for Senate in California in 2010 but lost by a 10-point margin. A CNN poll earlier this month found her with less than one percent of the vote in a hypothetical GOP primary. —Jon Terbush

2016 Watch
12:57 p.m. ET
Screenshot / ABC

Former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley on Sunday took a none-too-subtle swipe at Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, the presumptive frontrunners for their parties' 2016 nominations.

"The presidency of the United States is not some crown to be passed between two families," O'Malley, himself a prospective White House candidate, said on ABC's This Week. "It is an awesome and sacred trust to be earned and exercised on behalf of the American people." —Jon Terbush


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The hunters become the hunted
12:27 p.m. ET
Screenshot / NBC

What would Bambi look like with bulging muscles and an entourage of woodland gunmen? That's the question Saturday Night Live answered with a The Fast and the Furious meets Disney reboot staring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as the titular orphaned deer.

"When I was a boy, they took away my mother," Johnson says in the faux trailer. "Now it's time for them to pay — dearly." —Jon Terbush

Iran and the bomb
11:51 a.m. ET
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday assailed the emerging details of a nuclear agreement intended to curb Iran's nuclear program.

"This agreement, as it appears, confirms all of our concerns and even more so," he said.

The U.S. and Iran have three days left before the deadline to reach a framework deal.

This just in
11:21 a.m. ET
Alex Wong / Getty Images

Arab leaders on Sunday announced a tentative agreement to create a joint military force to combat violence and extremism in the region.

"We recognize the clear challenges in the Arab world and the need to take measures to combat them," Nabil al Araby, chairman of the Arab League, said on the final day of the group's summit in Egypt.

The announcement came days after a Saudi-led coalition began launching airstrikes in Yemen against the Houthi rebels who have overrun the country and forced President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee.

Developing story
10:27 a.m. ET
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) said Saturday his state would move to "clarify" the intent of a controversial so-called religious freedom law that critics contend will allow businesses to discriminate against gays.

"I support religious liberty, and I support this law," Pence told the Indianapolis Star. "But we are in discussions with legislative leaders this weekend to see if there's a way to clarify the intent of the law."

The law, which will go into effect in July, bars the state from enacting legislation that could "substantially burden" the ability of people and businesses to practice their religious beliefs. Several high-profile businesses and figures have expressed concern over the law, or threatened to boycott the state.

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