Many people are outraged by the ethical implications of the recent revelation that Facebook conducted psychological experiments on unwitting users, manipulating their emotions by skewing their news feeds toward positive or negative posts. But look on the bright side: now that we know how "emotional contagion" works, mental-health professionals are going to have a much easier time at their jobs.
Client 1: I don't know why, but lately I've really been feeling down.
Dr. Psychiatrist: Hm. Well, we see a lot of people respond well to filling their Facebook news feeds with positive content.
Client 1: All right. I'll try it out, and then we'll meet next week to check in?
Dr. Psychiatrist: Oh, I don't think that will be necessary. Facebook did a whole study about it, it totally works.
Client 2: I'm afraid I might be having another depressive episode. Every day seems pointless and gray, and I have trouble motivating myself to get out of bed in the morning.
Dr. Psychiatrist: I see. I think this situation calls for a strict regimen of positive content in your Facebook news feed.
Client 2: I'm sorry, but do you really think that will help? After four years of weekly therapy sessions and two different types of antidepressants, you think this is what will make the difference?
Dr. Psychiatrist: Yeah, see, it's called "emotional contagion." Facebook did this big experiment, it was actually kind of creepy, but the upshot is: you need to catch the infectious disease that is happiness. Just get on Facebook and have your friends sneeze right into your mouth, but, like, the snot is joy. When that girl who lived on the floor above you in your freshman dorm is really psyched about the weather in a city you don't live in, I want you to pretend that's a smallpox blanket and snuggle up.
Client 2: And the smallpox is...good?
Dr. Psychiatrist: See? It's already working!
Client 3: These past few months, I've felt desperately unhappy. Every time I get on social media, I see one of my friends celebrating an engagement or a birth, while I'm just living my boring life. Why is it that my friends always get out of traffic tickets or score a free drink from the bartender, and why do they have to brag about it on Facebook? It makes me feel so inadequate.
Dr. Psychiatrist: I hear what you're saying. What I'm going to recommend is that you really immerse yourself in positive content on your Facebook news feed.
Client 3: What? But that's the whole problem. I see my friends' perfect-seeming lives and I feel like I'm missing out on everything, like I'm living this inferior version of life.
Dr. Psychiatrist: Right, right. But what Facebook's data says—and they have a lot of data—is that you pick up the emotions you see in your news feed, often without even being aware of it. In fact, you may be really happy right now but you just haven't noticed it yet.
Client 3: Is there any alternative?
Dr. Psychiatrist: Well, you could just stop using Facebook. Then the data says you won't feel anything at all.
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