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:
I wonder if Facebook KILLED anyone with their emotion manipulation stunt. At their scale and with depressed people out there, it's possible.
— Lauren Weinstein (@laurenweinstein) June 29, 2014
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. Peter Weber
Heath care is a big issue in the presidential campaign, and Seth Meyers had some fun to poke at Donald Trump's vague plan to replace ObamaCare with something "terrific." But mostly he looked a single-payer plan like that proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders. "Some Democrats, like Hillary Clinton, have questioned whether such a system would be feasible, but we may be about to get a real-life test case in Colorado," Meyers said on Monday's Late Night. If voters approve Amendment 69 in November, "the state that was one of the first to legalize weed in the U.S. could now also become the first to pass single-payer health care. Colorado doesn't care what the rest of the country thinks. Next they're going to change the state bird to the middle finger."
He cracked a slightly racy joke about Amendment 69 making sure everyone is taken care of, and how the current "clusterf--k" system is more one-sided, then looked at the pros and cons. The pros are that the current system is unfair, overly expensive, not user-friendly, and makes no sense — which is why every other rich nation went with single-payer. "The French spend less on health care than us, and they use cigarettes as pacifiers," he joked.
The downsides are it may be prohibitively expensive for a single state — Vermont scrapped a similar plan due to costs — and there will be a lot of resistance. "Scrapping our current system in favor of single-payer system would be a potentially revolutionary shift, which means it's not going to happen without tremendous pushback from the for-profit health care industry and their supporters, like the Koch brothers," Meyers noted, showing some of the ads the Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity is running in Colorado. Watch below, and giggle along with Meyers when the narrator ominously intones "Amendment 69" over and over. Peter Weber
Emma Watson made a statement on the Met Gala red carpet: Fashion can be both elegant and sustainable.
Watson was participating in the Green Carpet Challenge, and on Instagram, her stylist, Sarah Slutsky, explained that the five piece look crafted by Calvin Klein was created "from three fabrics woven from yarns all made from recycled plastic bottles. Plastic is one of the biggest pollutants — being able to turn this waste into a high quality material is a real success story."
Slutsky said the outfit was designed so it could be repurposed into several different ensembles — the pants can be worn on their own, and the train can be used again for another red carpet event. The zippers were made out of other recycled materials and the inner bustier was created using organic cotton, The Telegraph reports. Catherine Garcia
The politics were tough when President Obama wrapped up negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal between the U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim nations last fall, and they have only gotten worse since. The two presidential frontrunners, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, both oppose the deal, as do Sen. Bernie Sanders and many other Democrats in Congress. Obama promoted the TPP in a Washington Post op-ed published late Monday, clearly aware of the anti-trade flavor of the presidential race.
The Asia-Pacific region "is on its way to becoming the most populous and lucrative market on the planet," Obama wrote. "Increasing trade in this area of the world would be a boon to American businesses and American workers, and it would give us a leg up on our economic competitors, including one we hear a lot about on the campaign trail these days: China." China knows that, which is why it is furiously trying to negotiate a competing trade deal, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, by the end of the year, Obama said, saying China's pact would "carve up some of the fastest-growing markets in the world at our expense, putting American jobs, businesses, and goods at risk."
TPP, on the other hand, "puts American workers first and makes sure we write the rules of the road for trade in the 21st century," Obama argued, listing some benefits, from eliminating tariffs for U.S.-made goods to strengthening America's national security. Then he returned to the 2016 campaign:
I understand the skepticism people have about trade agreements, particularly in communities where the effects of automation and globalization have hit workers and families the hardest. But building walls to isolate ourselves from the global economy would only isolate us from the incredible opportunities it provides. Instead, America should write the rules. America should call the shots. Other countries should play by the rules that America and our partners set, and not the other way around. [Obama, The Washington Post]
He ended acknowledging that another clock is ticking. "My administration is working closely with leaders in Congress to secure bipartisan approval for our trade agreement, mindful that the longer we wait, the harder it will be to pass the TPP," he wrote, concluding: "Let’s seize this opportunity, pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership and make sure America isn’t holding the bag, but holding the pen." You can read the whole op-ed at The Washington Post. Peter Weber
Deep below the ocean's surface, scientists last week discovered a glowing jellyfish believed to be an ambush predator.
The almost fake-looking jellyfish was spotted on the Enigma Seamount near the Mariana Trench, 2.3 miles underwater. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) research vessel Okeanos Explorer is collecting data from the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, two areas where little is known about the environment, and made the find.
Scientists believe the jellyfish, which glows red and yellow, belongs to the genus Crossota. After seeing the jellyfish stretch out its tentacles, they also think it is an ambush predator. For the next nine weeks, the Okeanos Explorer will continue to make its way around this mysterious part of the sea, looking for fish, sponges, coral, mud volcanoes, and hydrothermal vent sites. Catherine Garcia
Sarah Palin has been promoting a new anti–climate change documentary, Jimmy Kimmel said on Monday's Kimmel Live, and he had some fun with her climate change denial. "I have a theory: I think Sarah Palin maybe wants global warming — it's cold in Alaska, it would be welcome up there," he said. "But the idea that she knows more than 97 percent of scientists, it's offensive, it's dangerous." Palin isn't alone — or even a minority in her party. And the conservative disbelief about climate change makes no sense, he said. "Unlike a lot of things, this isn't a matter of political opinion, it's a matter of scientific opinion," and the scientific opinion is overwhelming that humans are causing the Earth to heat up.
Kimmel compared Republicans in Congress denying the existence of climate change to him declaring he believes "yogurt is a conspiracy created by John Stamos." You would rightly call him insane, Kimmel said. "To me, the big question is, either you believe in science or you don't. Why do we believe scientists when it comes to molecules and the speed of light and Cialis, but not this?" His answer is that members of Congress take money from, and are told not to worry about climate change by, "companies that make pollution for a living."
Kimmel talked about the science of climate change a bit, and then turned the stage over to a pre-recorded video in which real climate scientists explain that human-influenced climate change is real, is not a hoax or a prank, and they they are "not f---ing with you." An adorable kid caps it off by asking adults not to "f--k this up" for his generation. And if you want to kvetch about Kimmel taking an unusually bold step into science and politics, he's ready for it. "I know I'll get beaten over the head by every wacko website, and I know there'll be a lot of 'What the hell do you know? Go back to girls jumping on trampolines'," he said. "This is not about what I know. This is about what scientists know." Watch below. Peter Weber
It has been more than 50 years since he was wrongfully convicted of murder and 40 years since he was released from prison, but it wasn't until Monday that Paul Gatling, 81, was restored all of his rights, including the right to vote.
— Lori Chung (@lorichung) May 2, 2016
Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson vacated Gatling's 1964 murder conviction, saying in a statement that Gatling "repeatedly proclaimed his innocence even as he faced the death penalty back in the '60s. He was pressured to plead guilty and, sadly, did not receive a fair trial. Today, 52 years later, he will be given back his good name and receive justice here in Brooklyn."
In October 1964, a felon pointed to Gatling, then a 29-year-old Korean War veteran, as a suspect in the murder of artist Lawrence Rothbort. Rothbort's wife at first couldn't pick Gatling out of a lineup, but once she did, Gatling's family and lawyer told him to plead guilty to avoid the death penalty. "The cops told me they would make sure I was convicted and the lawyers said they were going to execute me," he told NBC News. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
A Legal Aid lawyer took up his case, and in one of his last acts as governor, Nelson Rockefeller commuted Gatling's sentence in 1974, allowing him to leave prison. Gatling said because his conviction was never vacated, life wasn't easy when he got out, and when he heard about the Conviction Review Unit in Brooklyn that revisits wrongful convictions, he sent in his paperwork. "People need to know what they did to me," he said. Gatling also said he would have liked to have voted for President Obama in 2008 and 2012, but is looking forward to casting his ballot this November. Catherine Garcia
Claire Danes lit up the room at the 2016 Met Gala, thanks to designer Zac Posen embracing the event's technology theme.
Posen used fiber optic woven organza from France to create a shimmering gown for Danes, powered by 30 mini-battery packs. "I went through a sequence of stages throughout the process of draping this gown, playing with motion and structure to capture the emotional engineering," Posen said in a statement. "The gown is hollow underneath with no tulle — holding its own structure." See the dress in action in the video below. Catherine Garcia