Calendar 2017 - September

09 september

Emotions in Social Networks

“Like” is passé. Active Facebook users have availed themselves of a full palette of six emoticons in order to give a “face” to their reaction to posts. The classic thumb has been complemented by “love“, “haha“, “wow“, “sad“ and “angry”. Right on time, some may think, for them to be able to virtually but visibly participate in the ongoing political discussion. There are in fact many subjects that make some people feel called upon to display their emotions for their fellow human beings. Whether they are angry about refugee flows, empathic towards individual fates, brimming over with mirth over torrents of hatred filled with faulty assumptions, or astonished at a presidential election hard to comprehend – digital natives or immigrants will display their emotions publicly by clicking on one of the emoticons or also by posting texts or videos of themselves. One example of the latter is a young man unable to bear how the general public was treating his idol Britney Spears. He tearfully appealed to everyone to leave the singer alone. With over 2 mil clicks and a variety of copycat videos, he managed to make himself widely heard, after all.

Emotions are the key to the virality of contents1. Advertising has been reaching out to its followers the same way since time immemorial. The propagation of emotionally intense contents works particularly effectively with videos that target different senses simultaneously – which is ideal for social networks where short advertising films can proliferate at no cost for advertisers2.

Not only does the content itself seem to be viral, but also the emotion it carries. It is not too uncommonly observed that a post on particularly delightful or irksome weather conditions will result in friends immediately posting competing comparison images of their own meteorological situation accompanied by an uplifting or distraught emoticon or text. News reports provoking strong feelings are more likely to induce a reaction3, with positive ones having a stronger effect than negative ones. News that bolsters our well-being in particular will contaminate and tempt readers to participate with their own positive contributions as well4. Depressing contents, on the other hand, clearly have lower chances of triggering reactions.

But why are digitally expressed emotions so contagious? Is it out of psychologically ingrained solidarity, or because of a societal norm for sympathy? Do mirror neurons come into effect that make us smile when our counterpart smiles? Are we happy, angry or sad for the same reason as the sender? Or do we react the way we expect the author to do when we post something? A little of each, the answer may be. According to Hatfield et al., participation in the emotional world of our fellow human beings benefits our own mental health on the one hand, and creates social proximity on the other.

It remains to be clarified why it seems so important to some to inform their surroundings of their emotional state, and their stance on events and news. It may not come as a shock that expressing feelings online, again, is a matter of attention and self-representation. By letting our fellow human beings know how we react to what, we can actively shape our personality. If we react to strong emotional triggers such as a capsized refugee boat or a chick waddling along after a bulldog, this will make us visible and, ideally, more interesting. Reactions to scientific contents will lend us an intellectual touch, comments to political events a world-wise one1. Personality-shaping at the touch of a button ... there is only one thing left to say: :-o

The „Leave Britney alone“-Guy (Video)



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  • 2 Hilker, C. (2012). Erfolgreiche Social-Media-Strategien für die Zukunft: Mehr Profit durch Facebook, Twitter, Xing und Co. Linde Verlag GmbH.
  • 3 Guadagno, R. E., Okdie, B. M. & Muscanell, N. L. (2013). Have we all just become ‘robo-sapiens’? Reflections on social influence processes in the Internet age. Psychological Inquiry, 24, 1–9.
  • 4 Kramer, A. D. (2012, May). The spread of emotion via Facebook. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 767–770). ACM.
  • Picture: © Sergey Nivens –,