Over the weekend if you went on to quality (not Buzzfeed) news sites you would have probably seen something about a scientific paper that was published by researchers in the pay of Facebook on how emotion spreads through social networks.
Emotion research explainer
There was a lot of copy written already about the experiment, so I recommend that you read The Atlantic‘s piece on it instead. There has been a lot written about whether it is moral, legal or ethical. As far as it being legal, Facebook’s highly paid legal counsel could provide a better steer on it than I could; and I suspect they would tell you it was completely legal.
As for the morals and ethics of it, I rather think that those are a mute point. Consumers emotion states have been tweaked for decades, the question of morality sailed with the rise of the mass market consumer product.
Whilst public relations as it is practiced now is more of a mechanistic craft; its father Edward Bernays viewed propaganda as a ‘modern instrument’ driven by scientific thinking including understanding of audience psychology to move people.
Advertisers utilised motivational research from the early 20th century on to create cognitive dissonance with a consumer and then provide the product as a solution. The Atlantic carried an article on the psychology of advertising back in 1904. You are a better Mum if you wash your kids clothes with Persil, Cadbury’s Dairy Milk will put a smile on your face. All of which mine directly into consumer’s emotion, spreading dissatisfaction.
Political pollsters use voter psychographic profiling to induce a constituency result. We already live in the world of a malleable proletariat envisioned by by George Orwell in his novel 1984.
The people who are outraged by this need to get over it, log-in to Facebook less and realise that they are already sheep with a gallery of multinational shepherds herding them through their consumer lifecycle. What you can do is become more informed and read your environment in a more critical way. More related content here.
Everything We Know About Facebook’s Secret Mood Manipulation Experiment | The Atlantic
Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks by Adam D. I. Kramera, Jamie E. Guillory and Jeffrey T. Hancock
The Oxford Handbook of Propaganda Studies (Oxford Handbooks) the Auerbach and Castronovo edited anthology gives you pretty much everything you need to know from Bernays onwards about psychology and audience manipulation
The Psychology of Advertising by Walter D Scott | The Atlantic (1904) – no that’s not a typo
Frontline: The Persuaders | PBS
Advertising’s Fifteen Basic Appeals | Jib Fowles