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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. Peter Weber

12:10 p.m. ET

The old Christian Bale can't come to the phone right now:

Photos leaked Thursday show Bale's full body commitment to the character of Dick Cheney, whom Bale is portraying in Adam McKay's forthcoming (and yet untitled) biopic about the former vice president. The film will reportedly cover Cheney's "time serving as a Wyoming congressman up through his time in D.C. — with a few stops for hunting trips (and accidents) along the way," Vulture reports.

For reference, only a short time ago, Bale looked like this:

The film also stars Amy Adams as Dick Cheney's wife, Lynne Cheney:

Not too shabby! Jeva Lange

Embed from Getty Images

11:57 a.m. ET
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Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Mark Warner (D-Va.) will introduce a bipartisan bill Thursday intended to force digital companies to be more transparent about their advertising sales. McCain signed on to the Democrats' bill Wednesday.

The effort was sparked by the revelation that Facebook sold more than $100,000 worth of ads to a Kremlin-linked Russian company during the 2016 election; Google later revealed it had sold $4,700 worth of similar ads. Both companies were able to avoid disclosure rules mandated by the Federal Election Commission because political activity on the internet has been largely exempt from the regulations placed on traditional media advertising since 2006, as part of the so-called internet exemption rule.

The senators' bill would require internet companies to disclose information about ad purchasers to the FEC. But the tech companies are not thrilled with the move, and are roping in lawyers and lobbyists in an effort to shape the regulations to be more company-friendly. "In a two-front war, tech companies are targeting an election commission rule-making process that was restarted last month and a legislative effort in the Senate," The New York Times wrote.

In a statement, the senators said the opacity of online ad sources left U.S. elections susceptible to foreign threats, like Russia's meddling in 2016. The bill would "prevent foreign actors from influencing our elections," Klobuchar and Warner wrote, "by ensuring that political ads sold online are covered by the same rules as ads sold on TV, radio, and satellite." Kimberly Alters

10:55 a.m. ET
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A New Jersey survivalist who spent decades preparing for the apocalypse is donating all of his goods to Puerto Rico, in honor of his late wife. Joseph and Phyllis Badame shared a passion for prepping, custom-building their home with bunk beds and stocking up on dried food.

When Badame's wife passed away and their house went into foreclosure, he decided to pay their survivalist skills forward to victims in hurricane-hit Puerto Rico. The 74-year-old has donated 80 barrels of goods to the U.S. ­territory — enough to sustain two villages for months. "Those people are starving," he told The Washington Post. "I just can't sit by." Christina Colizza

10:42 a.m. ET
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There is controversy brewing in the last frontier. One of the top 20 finishers in the 2017 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race possibly gave their team the banned opioid pain reliever Tramadol, Alaska Dispatch News reports. It is the first time dogs have tested positive for an illegal substance in the history of the nearly 1,000-mile race.

While the president of the Iditarod Officials Finishers Club, Wade Marrs, did not name the musher in question (he or she is referred to only as "Musher X"), the positive test for Tramadol was reportedly isolated to a single top-finishing dog team.

"Race officials have refused to provide the musher's name, citing 'legal concerns,' the Dispatch News writes. "They have said they cannot prove the musher's intent, so they cannot penalize the musher under the 2017 race rules, which they have since revised." Musher X denied administering the drug and "repeatedly offered to submit to a polygraph and complied fully with all requests," Marrs' statement said.

"It's not a good situation," Iditarod Board member Aaron Burmeister told The Associated Press. "I'm hoping that we can turn a positive light on it and the musher steps forward." Jeva Lange

10:24 a.m. ET
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The Trump administration is still considering plastering the border wall with solar panels, despite the fact that experts say the idea makes no sense practically or economically. "We're certainly looking for different methods and ways to make this better," Mario Villarreal, the division chief for San Diego's Customs and Border Patrol field office, told the Washington Examiner in a Wednesday interview. "Solar panels or technology bundles on top of the fence certainly isn't off the table."

In June, Axios reported that Trump described his vision for the wall to Republican leaders as being "40 to 50 feet high" and covered in solar panels so it "creates energy and pays for itself." The plan is not so scientifically sound, energy experts say, because "sitting solar panels atop a giant wall, or lining the sides of it, aren't necessarily the best way to maximize solar output," as BuzzFeed News writes. If it was, businesses would already be doing it.

Six companies have been chosen to design mock border walls for inspection, a process that will be complete by the end of the month. "We're excited to see the industry come up with new, innovative, and creative ideas in the form of border wall prototypes," said Villarreal. Read his full interview at the Washington Examiner. Jeva Lange

9:25 a.m. ET
Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

Debating how presidents honor fallen service members is "asinine," Energy Secretary Rick Perry told CBS News on Wednesday, when Major Garrett asked him about the days-long controversy surrounding President Trump. "The presidents of the United States each have a love for this country," Perry said. "They have a love for the young men and women who serve and the families who have lost them. I think anyone who questions that — now do they handle it differently? Yes, and that's okay."

President Trump has had about two dozen service members die while he was in office, but when George W. Bush was president, Perry noted, he was signing a condolence letter a day during the height of the Iraq War. When Perry was governor of Texas, he added, "about 10 of those years, I wrote a letter a week to a Texan's family — their spouses, their loved ones, their next of kin — who was lost in the war on terror. I went to funerals. I visited with parents."

Perry said he wasn't sure why Trump cast false aspersions on former President Barack Obama's handling of fallen troops, but "what I will say in defense of what he said — I think he was making reference to — everybody does this differently." From his perspective, Perry added, "I know we live in a 24/7 news cycle and to be splitting hairs on how do we mourn, how do you give comfort, I think is a waste of time, frankly." You can watch the entire exchange at CBS News. Peter Weber

9:16 a.m. ET
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President Trump might become just the second president since Ronald Reagan to not visit the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea during his trip to Asia next month. In addition to concerns about how Trump's presence on the border might provoke Pyongyang, others in the administration "have expressed concern over Trump's personal safety," The Washington Post reports.

Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have been engaged in a war of words over the past several months, with Trump dubbing the dictator "little rocket man" and "madman" while Kim slammed the U.S. commander in chief as being a "mentally deranged … dotard." While Trump's appearance at the border would signal U.S. resolve, others, including South Korean President Moon Jae-in's advisers, "fear that a Trump visit to the DMZ could increase the chances of a miscalculation that could provoke a military confrontation or have other unintended consequences," the Post writes.

Then there is the threat to Trump himself. When former President Bill Clinton toured the DMZ, his Secret Service staff carried rifles to protect him — in violation of the cease-fire laws.

The White House will not yet confirm Trump's plans. The president will travel to South Korea as one stop during a five-nation trip through Asia between Nov. 3 and Nov. 14. Jeva Lange

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