Here's a new wrinkle on the massive emotion-manipulation study that Facebook conducted in concert with researchers from Cornell and UCSF: one of its researchers is funded under a US Department of Defense program to study "emotional contagion" and civil unrest.
Cornell's Jeffrey T Hancock, one of the three scientists who conducted the experiment (which was likely illegal) does active work on the DoD's Minerva program, which studies the spread, manipulation, and evolution of online beliefs.
The US military and intelligence apparatus has a long history of attempting to manipulate public opinion — from sneaking Russian editions of Dr Zhivago into the USSR to the covert creation of a "Cuban Twitter". It has also actively delved into directly manipulating online discourse, commissioning "persona management" software that would allow a single spy to run 20 simultaneous online identities for message-board debates and then refining the project with a $2.76M grant to Ntrepid, an LA startup formed to create this software.
It's not clear whether this specific experiment came under the umbrella of Hancock's DoD funding. But it's clearly thematically connected with the rest of the Minerva program, which also has some legitimate ends, such as identifying and countering other countries' sock-puppet programs.
(Image: Our hero, the sock puppet, Quinn Dombrowski, CC-BY-SA)