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Facebook’s notorious emotional manipulation study received more online attention than any other scientific research in 2014, according to an analytics company.
The paper, “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks”, was published in the respected US journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in July.
It sparked outrage by revealing that Facebook had been experimenting on hundreds of thousands of unwitting users, attempting to induce an “emotional state” by selectively showing positive or negative stories in their news feeds.
Academic analysts Altmetric suggests that the research will have done wonders for the scientists’ public engagement metrics after it ranked number one for attention out of every scientific article published in 2014.
Perhaps surprisingly, the majority of the recorded attention was on Twitter, where the article was shared 4,000 times to almost 10 million people. On Facebook itself there was little reaction to the research, which was shared publicly just 344 times. However, there were likely to have been more private wall posts on Facebook, so the total cannot be determined.
The article was also mentioned in 300 news sites, 130 blogposts, 13 subreddits and even 113 Google+ profiles.
But while Facebook may be a natural topic for online attention, the rest of the top five articles are more varied – and so are their reasons for getting so much attention. Second place went to a seemingly unassuming paper in the Journal of Ethology titled “Variation in Melanism and Female Preference in Proximate but Ecologically Distinct Environments”. But a quick scan of the articles citing the paper reveals the reason for its notability: the article was published with an author’s comment left in, asking “should we cite the crappy Gabor paper here?”.
The rest of the top five at least made the list for their contents. Third place went to a study from Nature suggesting that artificial sweeteners could induce glucose intolerance, while fourth place was a breakthrough in stem-cell research also published in Nature.
And the fifth place? Research published in Frontiers in Zoology in which animal behaviourists watched dogs defecating and discovered that they were sensitive to small variations in the Earth’s magnetic field.
Euan Adie, founder of Altmetric, said: “It’s no surprise to see that the most shared articles of the year heavily mirror the media agenda, but interesting to note that on occasion online communities are drawing attention to studies that have not received a significant amount of mainstream coverage.
“For example, we had more than 2,000 tweets for a study on how gaining basic certification affected nursing confidence levels. This reached a combined following of more than 2.2 million followers, demonstrating how social media can really boost the profile of some online published studies.”