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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

12:53 p.m. ET
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Democrat Hillary Clinton spent Saturday morning at an FBI office near her home in New York receiving her first classified briefing as a nominee for president.

The two-hour meeting came about a week and a half after Republican Donald Trump received a similar intelligence update, attended by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. The briefings are conducted by staff of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and held in special rooms called Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities.

Though such meetings have been used to prepare nominees for a smooth transition into office for more than half a century, opponents of both candidates this election cycle have questioned their respective fitness to receive such valuable information. Clinton's critics pointed to her private email server scandal as evidence that she cannot be trusted with classified documents, while Trump's detractors suggested he is too loose-lipped to handle sensitive data. Bonnie Kristian

12:27 p.m. ET

If you have clear skies just after sunset on Saturday, August 27, look west to see Venus and Jupiter so close on the horizon they almost appear to merge into a single light.

This rare astronomical event is called an "appulse," which is when two celestial bodies appear from earth's vantage point to approach each other as closely as possible — in this case, with less than one degree between the two planets.

Venus and Jupiter will not come this close again for nearly five decades — the next comparable conjunction will appear in 2065 — and Saturday's light show will be bright enough to view with the naked eye, weather permitting. Bonnie Kristian

11:47 a.m. ET
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Donald Trump took to Twitter Saturday morning to boast that African-American voters will support him come Election Day — and had he stopped there, it would have been just another example of Trump's awkward minority outreach efforts.

Instead, however, he cited the fatal shooting of Nykea Aldridge, cousin of Chicago Bulls shooting guard Dwyane Wade. The mother of four was killed by stray gunfire Friday, and Trump — while misspelling Wade's first name — said her death is one reason black Americans will give him their votes.

Trump was roundly criticized for his tweet after it went live. Actor Don Cheadle tweeted, "You are truly a POS," while The Washington Post's Philip Bump nailed the post's inappropriate tone: "It comes off not as a thoughtful statement of concern for a tragedy that needs to be fixed and more as an attempt to leverage a murder into a campaign slogan." Bonnie Kristian

11:18 a.m. ET
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At least 17 Kyrgyz migrant workers were killed and four more injured Saturday when a printing warehouse in Moscow, Russia, caught fire. The blaze was put out after two hours.

The fire was caused by a broken lamp on the first floor, said Ilya Denisov, chief of Moscow's emergency services, and then spread upstairs through an elevator shaft. The victims are all believed to be young women who were trapped while putting on their work uniforms.

"Most of them were in Moscow to earn money," said Abdygani Shakirov, who works at a local Kyrgyz community organization. "They were in the dressing room and were unable to get out. The smoke had blocked the exit." Bonnie Kristian

10:41 a.m. ET

If you're ever stranded on a desert island, writing "SOS" in giant letters in the sand actually can help — or, at least, it helped a pair of boaters rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard from an uninhabited island in Micronesia on Friday.

The pair began their journey on Wednesday, August 17, and were expected to arrive at their destination one day later. Instead, they landed on the empty island near the Chuuk Lagoon on Friday, August 19, and survived on limited supplies for a week until the SOS was noticed by a U.S. Navy plane. Before the SOS was spotted, rescuers searched some 17,000 square miles without success. Bonnie Kristian

10:08 a.m. ET
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The United States and Russia are close to reaching agreement on national ceasefire in Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday, but have yet to sign a deal. Following talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva, Kerry said there are still "a few narrow issues to be resolved" before a lasting accord can be reached.

"We don't want to have a deal for the sake of the deal," he explained. "We want to have something done that is effective and that works for the people of Syria, that makes the region more stable and secure, and that brings us to the table here in Geneva to find a political solution."

The U.S. and Russia previously reached a ceasefire agreement in February, but that temporary peace collapsed by April. Bonnie Kristian

9:51 a.m. ET
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Donald Trump's personal physician, Dr. Harold Bornstein, wrote a letter in December declaring Trump the "healthiest individual ever" to have a shot at the presidency, with "astonishingly excellent" test results. Speaking publicly about the letter for the first time on Friday evening, Bornstein revealed he wrote it in "five minutes" while his limo driver waited outside. He did not proofread the letter.

As for the remarkably Trumpian style of the note, Bornstein insisted he wrote it himself, but admitted he "might have picked up [Trump's] kind of language and then interpreted it as my own." Bornstein also justified his claim about Trump's unparalleled health by saying all past presidents "are either sick or dead" — which I guess is at least half true, though you can't really fault guys born 200 years ago for failing to make it to 2016.

Watch Bornstein's remarks below, including the little giggle he can't resist while labeling Trump's mental health "excellent." Bonnie Kristian

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