Facebook, the sixth-most valuable company in the world, is now large enough to conduct its own scientific research about itself. One study, announced this month, seems to reflect a worry within the company that people don’t think they can turn to their social network for support.
“There’s a notion that Facebook is only for cat videos,” says Moira Burke. “We wanted to understand whether that’s true or not.” Burke is a computational social psychologist at Facebook; she was previously a researcher at Carnegie Mellon.
“I see people talking about deeply personal, negative parts of their lives on Facebook,” said Burke. But does that hold up across the board? And even if people do post about the more sorrowful aspects of their lives, does anyone reply?
A new paper, co-authored by Burke and another Facebook researcher, and published this month in the journal CSCW, asked how Facebook users react to other Facebook users expressing positive or negative emotions on the site. Specifically, it analyzed uses of the “feelings annotation tool,” the drop-down box that lets a user say they are feeling happy, sad, angry, or one of several dozen other emotion words. After a user selects a feeling word, Facebook inserts both it and a representative emoji next to their feels-annotated status:
Burke and her co-author, Mike Develin, ran more than 31 million statuses in their study. More than a third of all feelings expressed in status messages were negative, they found. But people still replied to users who shared sadder feelings—in fact, they replied to those users more.