There’s been so much nonsense talked about Facebook “manipulating emotions” lately, it’s tough to know where to start. The Dish, as always, has a decent primer.
First: the facts. Facebook altered the News Feeds of its users in order to determine if “emotional states [could] be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness.” This, we are told, is a VERY BAD THING. Why? Well, it just feels creepy to people. Apparently.
Not to me. I couldn’t care less. In fact, I am amazed anyone cares. Isn’t this what media companies do? Manipulate our emotions, and try and make the source of that emotion “viral” (i.e. popular) and profitable? Newspapers, movie studios, TV channels, Upworthy… they all make their living by triggering emotional reactions. Newspapers seek to make us feel more informed (and therefore better) than other people. Movies and TV want to make us laugh or cry. Upworthy wants us all to feel everything is going to be alright, because a cat and a goat became friends. Or something. Why is it a problem that Facebook is working on ways to makes us feel “better” about the world? I’m puzzled. Maybe it’s because analog media like movies and magazines are written by humans trying to puppet our emotions, and that’s acceptable. Do it with an algorithm? Well, that’s Skynet and the end of humanity, isn’t it?
You can always rely on a magazine writer or two to say something really dumb about Facebook. Step up, Laurie Penny of the New Statesman! Listen how she Chicken Littles her way through 800 words:
“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.”
What crap. Firstly, it’s false on its face. The Pope? The President of the United States? The head of the Politburo? The Chairman of the Chinese Communist party? I humbly submit that all of them have (or had) a teensy bit more power to “manipulate daily emotions” than Mark Zuckerberg. Although I’m sure he’s very skilled at limiting your intake of engagement notices and baby pictures on Facebook.
Second, what do you take human beings for? Idiotic lemmings with no emotional agency at all? So Facebook throttles back on telling you about war-time atrocities today. Big whup. Do you honestly believe Facebook users will think the world is fine, just because a website isn’t contradicting us? How stupid do you think users are? “Experts” are willing to believe social media is pernicious, almost all the time, for no reason at all. I am baffled. Why are we all so anxious about these tools? That’s all they are: tools. Like hammers. Or lasers. Or fax machines. We want to imagine they have power over us, like evil invading robots, making us toil in their underground transistor mines. They are no such thing. If we as people are unhappy, or too happy, let’s look for reasons other than Facebook for why that might be so.