Confused objections to Facebook emotional contagion research

Posted on July 2, 2014  /  1 Comments

I am puzzled by the predominantly negative reaction to the manipulation of Facebook content, in the recent published research article in the mainstream media (MSM), though perhaps less in blogs and such.

It seems to me that MSM’s reaction is hypocritical. They manipulate their content all the time to evoke different emotional responses from their readers/viewers/listeners. The difference is that conducting research on resultant emotional changes on MSM is not as easy as on Facebook. For example, magazines have used different cover images, darkening or lightening faces and so. Their only indicator of success is whether version A sold more than version B. Not very nuanced.

Do MSM obtain the informed consent of members of MSM audiences before manipulating their content to evoke different emotional responses? If not, how can they point fingers at Facebook? Is there some conflict of interest involved in that MSM and those who make their living through MSM are threatened by new social media such as Facebook?

More fundamentally, the claim of manipulation posits that there is something called non-manipulated, emotionally neutral content in many medium, MSM or other. Is there?

Now let me look at the second group of objectors, those without an obvious conflict of interest such as MSM pundits. Why do bloggers and tweeters object to the manipulation of content by Facebook, but not by MSM?

I am speculating here, but it may be that many of us perceive a qualitative difference between user-generated content on media such as Facebook and employee-generated content on MSM. It’s their content on MSM; they paid for it; they can manipulate it. But in Facebook, the content is not theirs, but was generated by me and my friends. It’s wrong for the owner of the platform to manipulate the content we produced.

But did we really? If anything, that content was co-generated by the “user” and Facebook. If not for the platform and procedures provided at considerable cost by Facebook, would there be a news feed? I fail to see the distinction.

Again, we have to ask the fundamental question of what this neutral baseline of the non-manipulated, objective news feed is? Isn’t reverse chronological ordering a manipulation? Isn’t alpha ordering another kind of manipulation? And random?

In the end, isn’t this knee-jerk opposition to the new by those acculturated to the old and who cannot see the manifold manipulations embedded in the old?

1 Comment