Technology

Facebook taps UC Berkeley researchers to study emotions

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Misunderstandings and hurt feelings happen all the time, even more often online when you can't see or hear each other, but Facebook wants things to go smoothly on its social network. So they are tapping some of the top minds at Yale and U.C. Berkeley to make it happen.

Unrehearsed and uncensored, a panel of real, live teenagers was the star attraction at Facebook's fourth annual Day of Compassion.

It was a day otherwise marked by charts, graphs, and people with Ph.D.'s, who have studied how those teens interact on Facebook -- including things like bullying.

"We found that the most important thing in the case where you're being bullied is getting you the support that's needed as quickly as possible," said Arturo Bejar, the Facebook engineering director.

Now, when teens flag a picture or status update that bothers them, Facebook sometimes suggests a few friends they might want to talk it over with. Even more common than bullying is the simple misunderstanding. Researchers went through thousands of posts flagged as mean or inappropriate and found out usually, they weren't meant to offend anyone.

"A lot of times the very absolute best thing for a person to do is send a message," said UC Berkeley professor Emiliana Simon-Thomas.

Facebook now suggests prewritten messages drawn up by experts in conflict resolution. They get a response 85 percent of the time.

"We're just trying to equip people with more ability to communicate authentically in a place where things like facial musculature, vocal tone, touch, all of these other ways of communicating aren't available on Facebook," said Simon-Thomas.

What Facebook is trying to incorporate some of those other ways of communicating to help make up for some of the shortcomings of text. You've probably already seen one of them, it involves a little face called a sticker. His name is "Meep" by the way.

Meep and his animated cousins are stickers based directly on Darwin's study of the muscles linked to specific human emotions. Research shows people recognize them on a gut level and people use them in messages where words are difficult. It turns out the four most commonly used stickers are angry and sad faces.

In the future Facebook might add little non-verbal sounds that also speak volumes.

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Tags:
facebook, uc berkeley, internet, cellphone, smartphones, technology, jonathan bloom
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