Facebook and empathy

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You may have seen this story, which I think is one of the biggest social media related news stories there has ever been. It has always been the case, on the internet, that if something is free, then you are the product.

It has also always been the case that Facebook’s business model relies on its users not changing the default privacy settings. In order to facilitate this, Facebook changes the privacy settings on a frequent basis. This keeps people on their toes, and each time encourages a certain number of people to give up trying to maintain a high level of privacy.

Thirdly, it has always been the case, with Facebook as with iTunes, as with Twitter, that nobody reads the licence agreement before they click Agree.

So what Facebook users didn’t realise was that they had already, apparently, agreed to be subjects of vast psychological experiments in emotional manipulation.

In a study with academics from Cornell and the University of California, Facebook filtered users news feeds – the flow of comments, videos, pictures and web links posted by other people in their social network. One test reduced users exposure to their friends “positive emotional content”, resulting in fewer positive posts of their own. Another test reduced exposure to “negative emotional content” and the opposite happened.The study concluded: “Emotions expressed by friends, via online social networks, influence our own moods, constituting, to our knowledge, the first experimental evidence for massive-scale emotional contagion via social networks.”

You can read more on this story here: Facebook reveals news feed experiment to control emotions | Technology | The Guardian.

Charlie Booker’s reaction to the story, also in The Guardian, is worth a read. Snip:

In other words, the fine folk at Facebook are so hopelessly disconnected from ground-level emotional reality they have to employ a team of scientists to run clandestine experiments on hundreds of thousands of their “customers” to discover that human beings get upset when other human beings they care about are unhappy.

This is a very interesting notion. The internet runs on a bedrock of nerds, and Facebook itself seems to have been developed by somebody who had so little emotional intelligence that he designed a system that encouraged people to state categorically whether they were single or in a relationship, and, in its original version, reduced the act of getting in touch with someone to the act of “poking”. Facebook’s corporate culture reflects this lack of emotional intelligence, which has side effects such as the controversial ban on photos of breastfeeding mothers. This experiment is confirmation, as Charlie Booker points out, that Facebook, as a corporate entity, doesn’t understand or have empathy.

To understand how serious this might be, read Laurie Penny’s take in The New Statesman. As she points out, as well as manipulating people’s emotional states, Facebook has previously experimented with encouraging/discouraging its users from voting.

Nobody has ever had this sort of power before. No dictator in their wildest dreams has been able to subtly manipulate the daily emotions of more than a billion humans so effectively. There are no precedents for what Facebook is doing here. Facebook itself is the precedent. What the company does now will influence how the corporate powers of the future understand and monetise human emotion. Dr Adam Kramer, the man behind the study and a longtime member of the company’s research team, commented in an excited Q & A that “Facebook data constitutes the largest field study in the history of the world.” The ethics of this situation have yet to be unpacked.

Just think for a moment about the power that Facebook has. It has 1.25 billion users. That’s a fairly large percentage of the world’s population, many of them in supposed mature democracies. The Sun newspaper sells just over 2 million copies every day. That’s half the number it was selling a couple of decades ago. And yet, British politicians are so afraid of the power of The Sun that it seems that they will do anything to ingratiate themselves to its editors and proprietors.

If The Sun has that much power with 2 million sales, how much power does Facebook have with 1.25 billion users?

Now imagine this. What if Facebook and its corporate owners were not benign? What if they decided to manipulate society and politics in its own corporate interests, as opposed to the personal, human interests of its many users?

Music streaming from websites such as Spotify to help dictate UK singles chart | Music | The Guardian

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The chief executive of the Official Charts Company, Martin Talbot, said this was a natural development to reflect to the changing ways the public now access music. He said: “The singles chart in the UK has always been purely based on the sales of singles, whether it be downloads or CDs or cassettes or even 7in vinyl, so broadening that for the first time to incorporate audio streams is a significant event. The chart has always evolved over 50 years to incorporate lots of different formats and the different ways people consume music and I suppose this is part of this evolution.

via Music streaming from websites such as Spotify to help dictate UK singles chart | Music | The Guardian.

 

Broadcaster forced to quit by BBC after accidentally playing a song with the N-word – Telegraph

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But yesterday the BBC appeared to suddenly change its position. In a statement it admitted it had handled the matter badly and said: “We have offered David Lowe the opportunity to continue presenting his ‘Singers and Swingers’ show, and we would be happy to have him back on air. We accept that the conversation with David about the mistake could have been handled better, but if he chooses not to continue then we would like to thank him for his time presenting on the station and wish him well for the future.”

via Broadcaster forced to quit by BBC after accidentally playing a song with the N-word – Telegraph.

If we call Clarkson racist, what word do we use for Boko Haram? – Comment – Voices – The Independent

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Thus, we could say to the latest verbal offender, it is not because we’ve glimpsed the hem of your bigotries that we are incensed by you – indeed we possess identical undergarments – but because you think we love it when you tease us with the prospect of your showing more. It’s not that you’re a bit of a racist so much as that you’re a bit of a whore.

As for Clarkson, it has always seemed to me that his real crime is to be interested in cars. Not just interested in cars in the way he is, as though they are a definitive badge of masculinity, as though the idea of a man unexcited by cars is inconceivable, as though the din and roar of them must be of universal male appeal, as though driving a car up a slope – sorry, up a hill – represents the ne plus ultra of human achievement, but just interested in cars full stop.

via If we call Clarkson racist, what word do we use for Boko Haram? – Comment – Voices – The Independent.

 

The sound of silence: LA band raises $20,000 through Spotify without recording a note – News – Music – The Independent

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Mr Stratton and his bandmates Theo Katzman, Woody Goss and Joe Dart have released three previous albums as Vulfpeck. Sleepify consists of 10 tracks with titles including “Z”, “Zzz” and “Zzzzzz”. Spotify’s average rate for royalties is $0.007 per track streamed, and a song must be played for at least 30 seconds to register.

All the tracks on Sleepify clock in at 31 or 32 seconds; an eight-hour night of continuous streams could thus generate more than $5 in royalties.

via The sound of silence: LA band raises $20,000 through Spotify without recording a note – News – Music – The Independent.

Jeremy Clarkson and Ukip are not mavericks, but the bullying face of the establishment | Suzanne Moore | Comment is free | The Guardian

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The Clarkson row is about something much bigger than his right to offend, which is why we need our public institutions to get with the programme. The inane discussion about whether Clarkson is personally racist is a side-show. He works within an institution that will clearly permit racist crap as laddish banter. Never mind the N-word; “slope” was vile. Oh, he didn’t know that it was nasty? Look, he’s my age. I wager he has seen as many Vietnam war movies as I have.

via Jeremy Clarkson and Ukip are not mavericks, but the bullying face of the establishment | Suzanne Moore | Comment is free | The Guardian.

 

The Sun’s naming of Leeds stabbing suspect highlights legal anomaly | Media | theguardian.com

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The Sun had no compunction in naming the 15-year-old pupil suspected of fatally stabbing teacher Ann Maguire in Leeds. It referred to him in the third paragraph of its main inside article as “the alleged killer”.

The Times said the suspect had been “widely named on social media outlets”, but unlike its Wapping stablemate it did not use his name. However, it gave plenty of clues about his identity in its front-page report by revealing details of his appearance, family and online activity.

Other papers were much more circumspect. The Daily Mirror, for example, stated in print that “the alleged attacker cannot be named for legal reasons”. Oddly, this phrase was not in its online version. The Daily Telegraph stuck to the same traditional formula as the Mirror by refusing to reveal the boy’s identity.

via The Sun’s naming of Leeds stabbing suspect highlights legal anomaly | Media | theguardian.com.