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?

Not what they had in mind: when Twitter campaigns backfire

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Yesterday the New York Police Department invited citizens to post photographs of themselves with police officers using the hashtag #myNYPD. Perhaps inevitably they were not inundated with photos of grinning kids slurping sodas on brownstone steps posing with their friendly neighbourhood cops but a whole torrent of images of police brutality. In answer to the NYPD’s initial tweet “Do you have a photo w/a member of the NYPD? Tweet us & tag it”, the Occupy Wall Street account tweeted a photo of protesters and cops fighting, with the caption “changing hearts and minds one baton at a time”. Many more similar uncosy images followed.

via New Statesman | Not what they had in mind: when Twitter campaigns backfire.

via New Statesman | Not what they had in mind: when Twitter campaigns backfire.

Game on, or off? Should we be worried about our tech-addicted toddlers? | Life and style | The Guardian

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Zoe Williams in the Graun:

The symptoms – you can rank your own children or spouse on this list, if you haven\’t got enough to argue about – are all recognisable from other addictions: how does your internet use affect the rest of your life and mind? How much do you crave it? Do you deny it or lie about it? And yet the thing itself – these games that set the social mind and the competitive spirit alight simultaneously – are unlike anything you would know about the world of toxins.

via Game on, or off? Should we be worried about our tech-addicted toddlers? | Life and style | The Guardian.

Everything from 1991 Radio Shack you can now do with a phone

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English: A Radio Shack store in the Plaza Cara...
English: A Radio Shack store in the Plaza Caracol shopping center on Boulevard Francisco Medina Ascensio in the city of Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s a great one for your impact of new media case studies. It’s something I always like to do when I stumble across newspapers: peruse the old ads. This one is extraordinary, and has already been shared over 10,000 times. It’s so perfect it could almost be a fake.

The back page of the front section [of the Buffalo News] on Saturday, February 16, 1991 was 4/5ths covered with a Radio Shack ad.

There are 15 electronic gimzo type items on this page, being sold from America’s Technology Store. 13 of the 15 you now always have in your pocket.

So here’s the list of what I’ve replaced with my iPhone.

  • All weather personal stereo, $11.88. I now use my iPhone with an Otter Box 

  • AM/FM clock radio, $13.88. iPhone. 

  • In-Ear Stereo Phones, $7.88. Came with iPhone. 

  • Microthin calculator, $4.88. Swipe up on iPhone. 

The extraordinary fact at the end of the list (there’s more if you follow the link) is that the cost of all this (inflation adjusted) would be over $5000 – in other words, around 10x more than you’d pay for an iPhone (other smartphones are available, but many of their owners don’t really use them as smartphones). So after reading this ad, does an iPhone seem as expensive?

Read more: Everything from 1991 Radio Shack ad I now do with my phone – Trending Buffalo.

via daringfireball

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The blog is dead, long live the blog » Nieman Journalism Lab

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Here’s another interesting post, from prominent blogger Jason Kottke, who is arguing that Peak Blog has passed, and 2014 is the year we’ll notice.

My own philosophy of blogging (with my main, personal blog, not this one) has been to do it as long as it interested me, and not to worry about whether anyone was reading it. Apart from anything else, I sometimes look back on things I wrote to see what I was thinking about, all those months ago. But Kottke is probably right that things are done differently these days.

The design metaphor at the heart of the blog format is on the wane as well. In a piece at The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal says that the reverse-chronological stream (a.k.a. The Stream, a.k.a. The River of News) is on its way out. Snapchat, with its ephemeral media, is an obvious non-stream app; Madrigal calls it “a passing fog.” Facebook’s News Feed is increasingly organized by importance, not chronology. Pinterest, Digg, and an increasing number of other sites use grid layouts to present information. Twitter is coming to resemble radio news as media outlets repost the same stories throughout the day, ICYMI (in case you missed it). Reddit orders stories by score.

via The blog is dead, long live the blog » Nieman Journalism Lab.

Twitter reinstates its blocking function after user backlash | Technology | theguardian.com

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The social media site was earlier on Friday was accused of reducing the power of blocking people to simply “muting” them with their revisions. The new policy meant a blocked user could follow and interact with the person who blocked them, but notifications of the activity would be invisible to the blocker. As part of the changes a person was also no longer made aware if they had been blocked.

A Twitter spokesman told media earlier on Friday that the new policy was to prevent retribution which they noticed was sometimes being carried out by people who were angry at being blocked.

But they have now reverted back to the old ways.

via Twitter reinstates its blocking function after user backlash | Technology | theguardian.com.

If a Story Is Viral, Truth May Be Taking a Beating – NYTimes.com

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Here’s a story that relates to what we looked at in class this week and it would be a great discussion point for a case study on impact-of-new-media-on-journalism case study. Those of you who answered Section B Question 6 in the June 2011 Unit 3 (MEST 3 – link to PDF) paper, could have explored the “implications” of “fast news” in such a way.

Several recent stories rocketing around the web, picking up millions of views, turned out to be fake or embellished: a Twitter tale of a Thanksgiving feud on a plane, later described by the writer as a short story; a child’s letter to Santa that detailed an Amazon.com link in crayon, but was actually written by a grown-up comedian in 2011; and an essay on poverty that prompted $60,000 in donations until it was revealed by its author to be impressionistic rather than strictly factual.

Their creators describe them essentially as online performance art, never intended to be taken as fact. But to the media outlets that published them, they represented the lightning-in-a-bottle brew of emotion and entertainment that attracts readers and brings in lucrative advertising dollars.

via If a Story Is Viral, Truth May Be Taking a Beating – NYTimes.com.

BBC Radio 4 – Zeitgeisters, YouTube

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Here’s a must-listen for all Media Students, especially those starting on the Year 13 Unit 3 topic of Impact of New Media.

It’s Radio 4’s 30-minute series about people who are shaping the modern world. Last week, it was the music industry. This week, YouTube. Not the founders of YouTube, or the owners of YouTube, but the people who are producing content for it.

If you’re doing A2 media, you’d be a fool not to listen to this. Follow the link below, scan the QR code above, or just find it on the iPlayer Radio app.

You only have 83 years left to listen.

BBC Radio 4 – Zeitgeisters, YouTube.

The right to be forgotten? Share your experiences – Guardian

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Charles Arthur, editor of Guardian technology, says: “You shouldn’t put anything online you don’t want to be visible to everyone forever. You can try to get stuff removed – and you might be lucky enough to succeed – but all someone has to do when they see a photo or web page is to copy the image or do a screenshot of the page, and that’s your deletion efforts wasted.”

The Guardian is investigating online profiles and deletion processes and we want to hear from those who have experience in trying to disappear from the web. Do you think sensitive personal data about yourself is too readily available online? Have you tried to delete your social media activity that is no longer relevant? Or have you tried to have press coverage about yourself erased?

via Deleting your online presence – share your experiences | News | guardian.co.uk.

Your intimate secrets and Facebook

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Me and my 542 bestest friends (on Facebook)

Me and my 542 bestest friends (on Facebook) (Photo credit: tychay)

You may have seen this story concerning Facebook, privacy, and data mining, which was widely reported on Monday. Here’s the Guardian:

Facebook users are unwittingly revealing intimate secrets – including their sexual orientation, drug use and political beliefs – using only public “like” updates, according to a study of online privacy.

The research into 58,000 Facebook users in the US found that sensitive personal characteristics about people can be accurately inferred from information in the public domain.

Researchers were able to accurately infer a Facebook user’s race, IQ, sexuality, substance use, personality or political views using only a record of the subjects and items they had “liked” on Facebook – even if users had chosen not to reveal that information.

The study will reopen the debate about privacy in the digital age and raise fresh concerns about what information people share online.

via Facebook users unwittingly revealing intimate secrets, study finds | Technology | The Guardian.

Then, yesterday, Helen Lewis wrote a Comment is Free piece about the story. She suggests first of all that our concept of privacy is a fairly recent phenomenon and that some of the “secrets” people were “giving away” are trivial. She goes on to argue that modern teenagers already conceive of privacy in different terms than do adults.

But surely, you might say, think of the children! Well, the truth is that our wired teenagers clearly don’t see privacy in the way that we do, and are even happier than we are to overshare online. Their generation will have to live with the consequences of posting those drunken party pictures where a future employer might see them.

Then again, give it another generation and their employers might have drunken party pictures on the internet too. Just as we might feel righteous indignation if family members burst into our bedroom without asking, so our ideas of privacy might look baffling to the humans of the future.

via Like it or not, privacy has changed in the Facebook age.

Finally, here’s a piece from Today’s New Statesman, in which Alex Hearn argues that people have already changed the way they use Facebook and are growing ever-more savvy about what they give away:

Facebook is designed to be used in a way that corresponds with the actual use patterns of fewer and fewer of its members. Even “active users”—its new preferred metric, since the total number of registered users is now limited by the population of the earth—may not be active the way it likes us to be.

The perfect Facebook user checks in whenever they go somewhere; they like the pages of all their favourite bands, movies, TV shows, and even their dentist; they tell Facebook where they work and went to school; they visit other sites through apps on Facebook; and they never, ever change their privacy settings from the default.

Does that describe you? Does that describe anyone?

Via, Don’t fear Facebook, pity it.

Hearn goes on to suggest that the thing we should worry about more is what we accidentally share, as opposed to what we volunteer. This all goes back the end-user and how much they know. Are most Facebook users aware that they are the product that Facebook sells? Are we aware of being Google’s product? I’d say a growing proportion of people are. One of the interesting things about Twitter is that it has never insisted on your real name. Some people use theirs, others don’t. It’s especially evident that very few teenagers use their real names on Twitter, which makes it much more attractive.

As you’ll know (or soon will) from my lessons, I’m of the opinion that social networks rise and fall around chat. As any teacher knows, teenagers are all about the chat. From MSN to MySpace, from Facebook to Twitter, people go where their friends are, so they can chat without using up their monthly text message allowance. Alex Hearn points out that Facebook is just a glorified message service. If people stop using it for that, it’s dead.