It was a Tuesday, the day I observe a whole day fast. Usually, fasting days are easy for me to bear but on that particular day around 230pm, I had some really serious hunger pangs bothering me. While I hoped for the clock to quickly strike 430 and I get to have my evening tea for some respite, I tried to distract myself in the same way we all like to i.e. open up my social media feed on my mobile to check what’s happening. Just when I fired up my Instagram an ad with a yummy burger photo popped up showing probably the yummiest burger I had ever seen. Not only did I start salivating that instant but almost freaked out thinking to myself ‘how the hell did Instagram know that I am hungry?’ Sounds familiar? Have you ever felt that you are being literally stalked by brands of products you search for? Have you ever experienced that at the very instant you start thinking of something it magically shows up on your social media feed or search? Have you ever felt creepy that the moment you searched for some random stuff on Google you suddenly start to see the same stuff on your Instagram feed? If not, try this experiment. Open Google on your mobile, type ‘boots’ or ‘shoes’ or ‘running shoes’ et al, click on a few 'Sponsored Ad' links that show up, browse through some of these links, then close Google, and after a few minutes fire up your Instagram. Scroll through the feed and notice the Ads that show up. Don’t be surprised to see ads of the same stuff you just Googled or see ads of products that belong to a category (like sportswear) that’s closely related to what you just Googled!
Some researchers at Cornell University teamed up with a few dudes at Facebook to undertake an interesting study. They wanted to empirically find out whether happiness or depression can actually be spread via the billions of posts that we consume on social media. They were keen to understand that just like a deadly pandemic physically debilitates millions can there also be an emotional contagion that debilitates millions digitally on social media? However, measuring this online was tricky as happy or sad people generally tend to congregate with each other so it is unlikely that one can cause a behavior change in the other. Hence, they tweaked the experiment methodology a bit. They randomly manipulated the Facebook feeds of millions of users. How? By reducing the amount of negative content that some saw and reducing the amount of positive content that others saw and they then observed the impact this reduction had on the nature of posts or content that they posted and what their friends’ posted.
The observations reveal a grim reality –
They noticed that with the reduction of positive and negative emotions in user’s newsfeeds there was an overall reduction in the number of words users posted on Facebook.
When they reduced the positive content from the user’s newsfeed, the percentage of positive words in people’s (users and their friends) status updates decreased whereas the percentage of negative words increased.
When they reduced the negative content from the user’s newsfeed, the percentage of negative words in people’s (users and their friends) status updates decreased whereas the percentage of positive words increased.
Whereas the observations of the study may appear downright understood, their implications on society at large are ominously dangerous.
REVENGE WAS BEST SERVED COLD
Dave Carroll was a decent musician and his band Sons of Maxwell a decent group. I mean they weren’t exactly the Metallica kinds but their group made decent money from all album sales, merchandising, and touring. On one such tour, they were traveling to Nebraska on a United Airlines flight via Chicago. His troupe members couldn’t fit their guitars in the overhead compartments so they were asked to check them in with their check-in baggage. Just as they were about to disembark at O'Hare airport to take the connecting flight Dave looked outside the window and was shocked to see baggage handlers tossing their guitars through the air. He pleaded with the flight crew en route but in vain. When the flight finally landed at the deserted Omaha airport, a tensed Dave scrambled his way to the baggage claim, and as soon as he opened his luggage his nightmares were confirmed. His $3500 guitar had been smashed to pieces. But this was the easy part of his story. He spent the next grueling nine months negotiating with United Airlines for compensation however the airlines came up with all sorts of ridiculous justifications to circumnavigate the claim. All this left Dave devastated but furious. He then decided to chuck it all and channelized his fury in the form of a short YouTube video which he famously named “United Breaks Guitars”, highlighting his great tribulation. Within a day his video received 500 comments, most of them emoting anger. Within four days the video got 1.3 million views and within ten days 3 million+ views with 14000 comments , all of them not only showed anger and empathy of viewers for Dave but this was also an opportunity for previously dissatisfied customers to vent out their pent-up emotions. His anger and fury had spread like wildfire so much so that United Airlines stock plummeted 10 percent in four days costing them $180 million. Post that incident though United Airlines made several attempts to redeem its image experts say that the damage caused was permanent. 
Barring aside the injustice that Dave had to suffer and which deserved to be told to everyone, his story, Facebook's study, and all the other such viral stories are stark reminders for us that irrespective of the nature of the content, positive or negative, as long as the content is emotionally arousing it is more than likely to influence us to further share it. Moreover when we see the positive emotions of others on our social media feeds we tend to express ourselves positively and when we see negativity on social media we tend to express ourselves negatively. In turn, the social media algorithms curate the emotions so smartly way that it has a meaningful impact on our moods and state spreading happiness or depression thereby magnifying the emotions and spreading the contagion. Researches are not only indicative of why a piece of content goes viral but also tells us the potentially debilitating consequences an emotional contagion can have on corporations, economies, or societies as well. The emotions we vent out by way of our posts are magnified and spread to others which can change their thinking, influence them and alter their behaviors too. It is not by sheer coincidence or magic that what you think of suddenly shows up on your newsfeeds or what you search for on Google suddenly pops up on your Insta feeds, it's just that then the social media algorithms are micro-targeting you because they now know what you need, what you buy, what you sell, how you behave, and how you feel. In fact, by how you behave on social media the algorithms not only accurately know what emotionally arouses you, but they also know what emotionally arouses your friends even. There is no doubt that social media has given each one of us a newfound power to voice our opinions, but it has also vested on us a moral responsibility – to either continue feeding the social media with negativity and spreading negativity or choose to steer towards positivity. This freedom of ours to digitally express ourselves is a stinky reminder of an age-old adage but paraphrased to ‘as you post, so shall you see.’ 
P.S. And if you are still in doubt of the realism of this scenario, how about you grab your cuppa and spend a few hours on Twitter?
Footnotes & References:  Coined in 'Experimental Evidence of Massive Scale Emotional Contagion Through Social Networks' paper by Adam Kramer, Jamie Guillory, and Jeffrey Hancock in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Also mentioned under Hypersocialization in The Hype Machine by Sinan Aral.  Heading borrowed from an article in The Times ‘Revenge is best served cold – on YouTube” that covered ‘United Breaks Guitars’ story.
 I wouldn't be surprised if the group would have become more popular post their 'United Breaks Guitars' video much more than they would have ever got with all their previous albums combined!
 Within four days of the incident on United Airlines, Dave's story was covered by The Guardian and The Times. In Dec 2009, Time magazine listed his video as one of the Top 10 Viral Videos of 2009.
 Dave's story has also been mentioned in Jonah Berger's Contagious under the section on Psychological Arousal.
 Can also be paraphrased to 'What you put into social media is what you get out of it.'