Facebook Controls Its Users

Last week Facebook announced that it had manipulated users’ news-feeds as part of a psychology experiment. The result of the experiment revealed that people who received  happier messages in their feeds caused them to write  happier posts, while those who received sadder messages prompted sadder posts. Unfortunately for Facebook this experiment was  conducted without the consent or knowledge of the users.

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key.

Image Credits freeimages by Solove.

Image Credits freeimages by Solove.

Excerpt: Should Facebook Manipulate Users?  By Jaron Lanier The New York Times

“Should we worry that technology companies can secretly influence our emotions? Apparently so.

A study recently published by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, Cornell and Facebook suggests that social networks can manipulate the emotions of their users by tweaking what is allowed into a user’s news feed.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, changed the news feeds delivered to almost 700,000 people for a week without getting their consent to be studied. Some got feeds with more sad news, others received more happy news.

The researchers were studying claims that Facebook could make us feel unhappy by creating unrealistic expectations of how good life should be.  But it turned out that some subjects were depressed when the good news in their feed was suppressed. Individuals were not asked to report on how they felt; instead, their writing was analyzed for vocabulary choices that were thought to indicate mood.

Photo Gizmodo.

Photo Gizmodo.

The researchers claim that they have proved that “emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness.” The effect was slight, but imposed on a very large population, so it’s possible the effects were consequential to some people…The manipulation of emotion is no small thing. An estimated 60 percent of suicides are preceded by a mood disorder. Even mild depression has been shown to increase the risk of heart failure by 5 percent; moderate to severe depression increases it by 40 percent. The subjects in the study still, to this day, have not been informed that they were in the study. If there had been federal funding, such a complacent notion of informed consent would probably have been considered a crime. Subjects would most likely have been screened so that those at special risk would be excluded or handled with extra care.” Read more.

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

Level: Intermediate – Advanced

Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.

Time: Approximately 2 hours. 

Materials: Student handouts (from this lesson) access to news article, and video clip.

Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

Analyzing headings and photos

Directions:  Have students  examine the titles of the post and of the actual article. After they examine the photos, ask students to create a list of  words and  ideas  that they think might be related to this article.  

II. While Reading Tasks

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance. 

  1. Technology companies can secretly influence our emotions.
  2. Facebook changed the news feeds without getting their consent.
  3. Facebook could make us feel unhappy by creating unrealistic expectations. 
  4. Emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion.
  5. It’s possible the effects were consequential to some people.
  6. Research with human subjects is generally governed by strict ethical standards.
  7. Facebook’s generic click-through agreement doesn’t mention this kind of experimentation.
  8. This is only one early publication about a whole new frontier in the manipulation of people.
  9. We know that a social network proprietor can engineer emotions for the multitudes.
  10. Research has also shown that voting behavior can be influenced by undetectable social maneuvering.

Word Map Education Oasis

 

Reading Comprehension Check

True /False/NA-Statements

Directions: Review the following statements from the reading.  If  a statement is true they mark it T.  If the statement is  not applicable, they mark it NA. If the statement is false they  mark  it F and provide the correct answer. 

  1. The study changed the news feeds delivered to people for a week without getting their consent to be studied.
  2. Everyone got feeds with more sad news.
  3. The researchers were studying claims that Facebook had no effect on people.
  4. It turned out that some subjects were depressed when the good news in their feed was suppressed.
  5. Some subjects were never affected by the information from Facebook.
  6. The researchers claim that they have proved that emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion.
  7. The general consensus is that the public has every right to be informed of otherwise undetectable commercial or political practices.
  8. An analogy was made to a pharmaceutical research secretly using an experimental drug.
  9. Facebook users under the age of 18 were affected by this experiment.
  10. People will never use Facebook again.

Grammar Focus

 Structure and Usage

Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical  error. Students are to identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.

I

  1. Should we worry that technology companies can secretly influence our emotions?
  2. The study changed the news feeds delivered to almost 700,000 people.
  3. Some gotten feeds with sad news and others received more happy news.

II

  1. It turned out that some subject were depressed.
  2. The manipulation of emotion is no small thing.
  3. An estimated 60 percent of suicides are preceded by a mood disorder.

III

  1. Research with human subjects are generally governed by strict ethical standards.
  2. Normally the subjects would have been screened first.
  3. The researchers noted that emotion was relevant to human health.

III. Post Reading Tasks

Reading Comprehension Check

Directions:  Have students use this advanced organizer from Write Design to assist them with  discussing  or writing about  the main idea and points from the article. 

Main idea chart By Write Design

Discussion/Writing Exercise

Directions: Place students in groups and have them answer the following questions. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the following discussion topics. Review Review ESL Voices Modes of Writing.  

1.  Rewrite the following 3 statements from the article in your own words. Then discuss the meanings with your group. Share your results with the class.

“A study recently published by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, Cornell and Facebook suggests that social networks can manipulate the emotions of their users by tweaking what is allowed into a user’s news feed.” 

“The researchers were studying claims that Facebook could make us feel unhappy by creating unrealistic expectations of how good life should be. But it turned out that some subjects were depressed when the good news in their feed was suppressed. Individuals were not asked to report on how they felt; instead, their writing was analyzed for vocabulary choices that were thought to indicate mood.”

“The manipulation of emotion is no small thing. An estimated 60 percent of suicides are preceded by a mood disorder. Even mild depression has been shown to increase the risk of heart failure by 5 percent; moderate to severe depression increases it by 40 percent.”

2. In your opinion was this experiment productive in any way? For example did the results benefit any of Facebook’s users?

3. Do you use Facebook? Do you think that you are manipulated by the news-feeds in your posts? Explain how.

4. Following the results of this experiment, do you think Facebook users could be influenced in other areas such as political elections?

5. What are the most significant ideas in this article?

ANSWER KEY

        

Category: Social Issues | Tags: ,