It’s true that some of the classic excuses for piracy had their brief moments of seeming credibility. In 2000, when the debate over digital piracy sprung to life, we didn’t have content providers like Spotify or Netflix, much less iTunes. The fact that there were so few legal options for consuming digital content was one of the main rationalisations for taking a soft stance toward piracy. The legitimate digital market was either too inconvenient or nonexistent, and piracy filled in these gaps in the developing web.
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?
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.
In a fascinating extract from a forthcoming book called Is the BBC in Crisis? Professor Justin Lewis details some of the ways in which the BBC fails in its mission to be impartial.
(I’ve long believed that the BBC’s ‘impartiality’ should be towards the truth, so that when the facts have a left-wing or liberal bias, there should be no need to wheel out the likes of Nigel Lawson to rebut the findings of 97% of climate scientists.)
Anyway, regular listeners/viewers will hardly be surprised to learn that the BBC has a right-wing bias – especially under a Conservative government, because of worries about the Conservatives (who are in power but have no mandate) eviscerating the BBC through the licence fee settlement.
Recent evidence from the most recent BBC Trust commissioned impartiality review appears to support this view. The research, by my colleagues at Cardiff, compared BBC news when Labour were in power (in 2007) with coverage under a Conservative-led coalition (in 2012). The study found, by a series of measures, that ‘Conservative dominance in 2012’ of BBC news was ‘by a notably larger margin than Labour dominance in 2007’ (Wahl-Jorgenson et al 2013: 5).
Beyond the main parties, the study suggested that the BBC is more likely than either ITV or Channel 4 to use sources from the right, such US Republicans or Ukip, and less likely to use sources from the left, such as US Democrats and the Green Party. But it is the imbalance between Conservative and Labour – by margins of three to one for party leaders and four to one for ministers/shadow ministers – that was most striking, especially since the research indicated that this rightward shift was a strictly BBC phenomenon.
The other interesting aspect of the article is its focus on the way the news agenda (news values) of the BBC also has a right-wing bias. They spend far more time discussing issues of interest to the right (e.g. immigration) than they do discussing issues of interest to the left (e.g. inequality).
I noticed during Party Conference season that the BBC spent much more time reporting the UKiP conference than they did the Green Party one, which was happening at the same time. What’s tragic about this, of course, is that ‘blind testing’ tends to show that twice as many people support Green policies as they do the foam-flecked ravings of the UKiPers. In other words, the BBC should be spending twice as much time covering issues if interest to Greens (climate change, inequality) than they do dealing with UKiP issues (immigration, immigration).
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.
“Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance.”
That\’s a text message that thousands of Ukrainian protesters spontaneously received on their cell phones today, as a new law prohibiting public demonstrations went into effect. It was the regime\’s police force, sending protesters the perfectly dystopian text message to accompany the newly minted, perfectly dystopian legislation. In fact, it\’s downright Orwellian (and I hate that adjective, and only use it when absolutely necessary, I swear).
Heard a discussion about this on Radio 4’s The Media Show this week (download the podcast). It seems outrageous to me that the BBC are “dramatising” factual programmes for “narrative or emotional impact” – without shame. That they were almost certainly doing this kind of thing in the past, goes without saying. What gets to me here is the corrupt morality. In the past, they’d have tried to keep this kind of thing secret, because of shame and embarrassment. Now they don’t appear to know what shame and embarrassment is.
It’s cheap TV, it’s dumbed-down TV, and it’s TV aimed not at the core audience for wildlife documentaries, but at that other, nebulous, “broader” audience, of people who aren’t interested in wildlife documentaries – unless they have drama, narrative, and emotional impact. Pandering, in other words. And you know what? I bet they still won’t watch.
Viewers are warned in advance, though, that some sequences have been dramatised for narrative or emotional impact, with some animals filmed in captivity or in the studio. Publicity material relating to the series further explains that, in order to present the perspective of the tiny protagonist in each scene, \”stages\” or tableaux have sometimes been digitally created around the genuine footage of the animals and insects.
This attempt at being transparent about the process was clearly intended to pre-empt a repeat of controversies about \”faked\” wildlife footage in previous series, even including some by Attenborough. However, admitting to heavy drinking does not prevent people concluding that you are an alcoholic and the controversy has simply happened anyway, with the spin that the BBC has \”confessed\” to fakery.
Here’s an interesting one, from the Graun: Should newspapers ban climate deniers like Reddit’s science forum? In short, the argument goes that, since deniers can’t really back up their arguments with scientific data, and frequently take their views from extremely biased sources (e.g. funded by oil companies), they’ve been banned from Reddit’s science forum. And it turns out that most of the crappy postings were coming from a tiny minority.
Like our commenters, professional climate change deniers have an outsized influence in the media and the public. And like our commenters, their rejection of climate science is not based on an accurate understanding of the science but on political preferences and personality. As moderators responsible for what millions of people see, we felt that to allow a handful of commenters to so purposefully mislead our audience was simply immoral.
What struck me about this was that the BBC should take heed, too. The Beeb has this infuriating habit of “balancing” its news coverage with just such ignorant, unscientific, unsupported views, on the basis that it can’t be biased. But the question (as always) is whether the BBC has a duty to be unbiased towards two sides of a ridiculous debate (giving equal weight to the idiots/liars) or whether it has a duty to be unbiased towards the truth. Or, put another way, unbiased towards the weight of scientific evidence.
This idea has come up recently in another context, in George Monbiot’s campaign to force the BBC to acknowledge when its contributors are being paid by a lobbying organisation, pressure group, or industry body to have an opinion. This was prompted by a recent “debate” around the question of plain paper packaging for cigarettes. The BBC interviewed a spokesperson from a “think tank” which of course gets at least some of its funding from tobacco companies, a fact that the BBC did not acknowledge when introducing the piece.
For the BBC, they were simply looking to provide the illusion of a debate, when in fact the only people who want tobacco companies not to be regulated are, you know, tobacco companies. The question of how these people sleep at night is never discussed.