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
In a sobering speech on Monday, President Obama said no one is "moving fast enough" to combat climate change and soon we will "condemn our children to a world they will no longer have the capacity to repair."
Obama was in Anchorage for the Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement, and Resilience (GLACIER) conference, and told his fellow world leaders if they don't act quickly the world can expect more drought, refugees, and conflict. "Any leader willing to take a gamble on a future like that, any leader who refuses to take this issue seriously or treats it like a joke, is not fit to lead," he added.
He said the United States "recognizes our role in creating this problem and embraces our role in solving it," and said those who say climate change isn't happening are "on their own shrinking island." Obama urged everyone at the conference to return to their countries ready to act. "It's not enough just to talk the talk," he said. "We've got to walk the walk." Catherine Garcia
On Monday night, the State Department released 7,000 emails sent by Hillary Clinton from a private server during her time as secretary of state.
Out of those emails, 150 are now considered classified, with the State Department telling reporters none were deemed classified when they were sent, Time reports. Clinton has continously said that she did not send any emails marked classified from the server. This is the third and largest release of Clinton's emails from her tenure as secretary of state. Catherine Garcia
After hearing Kanye West declare at Sunday's MTV Video Music Awards that he will run for president in 2020, Eugene Craig wasted no time setting up a PAC called Ready for Kanye.
Craig, a 24-year-old black Republican activist from Maryland, said the PAC is not a joke, and he'll be "gathering data, gathering info" on people willing to get West elected. "If Mr. West is to seek the presidency in 2020, and if there is no incumbent Republican president, I would absolutely encourage him to run," Craig told The Washington Post. "I think he will bring an interesting dialogue to our party, and he'll find a lot of people who want that dialogue. He's pointed out the crippling racial disparities in the law and the economy. He's talked about the pipeline of private prisons. He's a genuine entrepreneur. Oh, not to mention that his first big single was 'Jesus Walks.'"
Craig said he's not sure where West falls on the political spectrum, but he is a huge fan of the "musical genius" and would be willing to introduce him to the Republican Party if he's receptive. "He's been critical of President Bush; he's been critical of President Obama," Craig said. "You know, we'll find out when we reach him." Catherine Garcia
The Taliban said in a statement Monday that it suffered an "incorrigible loss" on April 23, 2013, when leader Mullah Mohammed Omar died.
— Telegraph News (@TelegraphNews) August 31, 2015
The news of Omar's death leaked in July, but the date of his passing remained a mystery until Monday. In the statement, which was written in several languages and posted on the Taliban's website, the organization said his death was kept a secret in order to keep spirits and morale high at a time when foreign fighters were leaving Afghanistan. Only a few of the Taliban's higher ups knew about the "depressing news."
The communication also included information on Omar's successor, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor. Many rank and file members of the Taliban are not supportive of Mansoor, The Guardian reports, and Omar's family is not backing him. The statement said Mansoor fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s and "particularly loves and has interest in marksmanship." Catherine Garcia
Two Vice News journalists were charged Monday in a Turkish court with "aiding a terrorist organization."
— Selin Girit (@selingirit) August 31, 2015
Correspondent Jake Hanrahan and cameraman Philip Pendlebury, both Brits, and their Turkish assistant were detained Thursday while in Diyarbakir, The Associated Press reports. Al Jazeera says the men have been accused of being members of the Islamic State. Diyarbakir is in an area that has seen an uptick in fighting between Kurdish rebels and security forces, and several people have been killed.
Vice calls the charges "baseless and alarmingly false" and an "attempt to intimidate and censor their coverage." It's not uncommon for journalists working in Turkey's mostly Kurdish regions to be taken into custody while reporting on situations, accused of having links to Kurdish rebels, AP reports. Catherine Garcia
President Obama is reportedly going back to college after he leaves the White House.
On Monday, Lee Bollinger, president of Obama's alma mater Columbia University, announced during an event on campus that the school is looking forward to hosting Obama in 2017, the Columbia Spectator reports. Bollinger didn't say what role the president will have, but before becoming commander in chief, Obama was a professor at the University of Chicago Law School.
Update 10:07 p.m. EDT: In a statement to Reuters, the White House said: "The President has long talked about his respect for Columbia University and his desire to continue working with them. However, at this point no decisions have been finalized about his post-Presidency plans." Catherine Garcia
Despite turning out a buzzy show filled with Miley Cyrus' skimpy costume changes and even a feud between Cyrus and Nicki Minaj, MTV's Video Music Awards experienced a 5 percent drop in viewership from last year. The awards show brought in 9.8 million viewers Sunday night — down from 2015's 10.3 million — despite its airing on an additional six networks. The VMAs still churned out a healthy amount of Twitter chatter, however. According to Nielsen, this year's show was the most tweeted non-Superbowl program since it began tracking social media. Samantha Rollins