Tag Archives: Social Media

Spewing From the Facebook News Feed

In a sharp article that takes a curious turn at the end, Derek Thompson discusses the Facebook News Feed and how it’s influenced by users. The broader and more important point speaks to the role of Facebook as a news source and how it shapes the public’s attention on important issues and conversations.

The News Feed is perhaps the world’s most sophisticated mirror of its readers’ preferences—and it’s fairly clear that news isn’t one of them. We simply prefer stories that fulfill the very purpose of Facebook’s machine-learning algorithm, to show us a reflection of the person we’d like to be, to make us feel, to make us smile, and, most simply, to remind us of ourselves.

In Thompson’s view, since each user has the power to alter her News Feed, we can conclude that evocative and emotional stories are extremely popular on Facebook because users prefer engaging with these stories. We choose to like and share this kind of content and we prefer it over traditional journalism and “hard” news. Thompson believes that Facebook has become a portal to entertainment-focused stories because that’s what users actually want to consume.

The problem I see in this line of reasoning is how little attention is paid to Facebook’s own control of the algorithms that determine what users see. In Thompson’s essay he makes it seem as if users have full power to create the News Feed just because a user can friend/de-friend and follow certain pages. But I think Thompson confuses the ability to alter the News Feed with transparency and control over it. Except for Facebook employees, nobody knows what the News Feed algorithms look like. Thompson also fails to acknowledge that even machine-learning algorithms were created by humans and contain very human biases both unintentional and by design (which news sources are favored/what kind of behavior determines that a user actually likes a story).

Facebook’s interest is to maximize user engagement. By measuring likes, shares, and comments, the company is improving ways to keep us on the News Feed. But I think the question “How best to retain the audience?” is different from “What are the deeper preferences for consuming news?” Thompson, however, thinks they are the same.

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From Tweet to Ad to Mini Modern Scandal

AO Scott, movie critic of the New York Times, writes a personal essay on movie marketing and Twitter. After one of his tweets is altered and turned into a print movie ad, a strange conversation sparks.

Here we begin a rapid descent into a wormhole created by the collision of movie-awards campaigning and paracritical chirping. The world may be divided between those who think Twitter defines the boundaries of the universe and those who don’t know what it is. It may also be divided between those who follow every surge and stumble of the “race” to the Oscars and those who might or might not remember to tune into ABC on March 2. Somehow, I have found myself in the Venn diagram circle of hell where two pointless obsessions — with words and statues that, by any reasonable measure of significance, mean nothing — converge, and if you are still reading, I have dragged you along. As they say on Twitter: #sorrynotsorry.

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LinkedIn’s New Network for Teens Is a Wasted Opportunity

My essay at The New Republic

As scholars of education Sandy Baum and Michael McPherson have argued, the kind of behavior LinkedIn asks students to engage in—demonstrating their employability and admissions worthiness in contrast to their peers—exacerbates the inequality faced by students in low income households. The admissions process clearly favors students with the most polished, presentable resumes. LinkedIn mimics the admissions logic compelling students to look good on paper—the same logic that often confuses privilege with accomplishment and rewards achievements that only financial privilege can bring.

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Snapchat Stories

From the Snapchat blog: “Snapchat Stories add Snaps together to create a narrative. When you add a Snap to your Story it lives for 24 hours before it disappears, making room for the new. Your Story always plays forward, because it makes sense to share moments in the order you experience them.”

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Snapchat And An Alternative to The Profile

Nathan Jurgenson, a sociologist and one of the most compelling thinkers on social media is also a researcher for Snapchat. In his latest post on the company’s blog, Jurgenson sketches out what Snapchat might become: an alternative to the identity straight jacket of the Facebook profile and permanent social media. As far as Facebook and Google are concerned, profiles are supposed to represent our “true selves,” the totality of our personality. The two force us to use our real names and everything we do and say on their networks is attributed to our identities as if we each have only one persona. It’s no surprise that this view of permanent identity is incredibly self-serving for Facebook and Google’s business. Since most of their revenue comes from advertising, it makes sense that the two would want all the info we type into their networks to be consistent with a Profile. Profiles are the way advertisers view humans. Single, female, in her 20s, likes denim and science fiction ebooks, travels often to South America. But we know from being alive, and from knowing other people intimately, that a person’s identity could never fully fit into rigid categories. As Jurgenson reminds us, our lives are full of revision, playfulness, ambiguity, contradiction, strangeness and discovery. Profiles and permanent social media stifle the ability to create ourselves. What if, instead, things could be different, perhaps temporary?

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Generation Drake

As you may remember from history class, one way to know a culture–to hold its thought in time– is to look at its art, its literature and its music. In his review of Drake’s new album, Nothing Was the Same, Steven Hyden of Grantland makes just this kinds of observation. “Again, his knowledge of pop celebrity mechanics in the social-media age is instinctive,” Hyden writes. “He gets that the public ultimately prefers the fantasy of accessibility to the fantasy of sequestered opulence.” The confessional style, the identity construction on social media, the “meta self-doubt” is all there.

All of the Drake-iest qualities are represented on “Too Much”: the oversharing of familial dirty laundry, the preoccupation with parsing his own (not too distant) past, the self-confidence disguised as self-doubt and self-doubt disguised as self-confidence, and the strident Y-ish striving. The influence of social media is palpable: In “Too Much,” Drake simultaneously presents a façade that he knows is not entirely accurate while also acknowledging that this façade is not entirely accurate. (I’m referring to the meta reference to Drake’s best-related stress, which, along with phenomena like “yacht envy” and “16-bedroom château guilt,” is experienced by only the truly megalomaniacal.) He undercuts this bravado by talking openly about his problems, but he’s not fully attached to this identity, either. The “real” Drake is situated somewhere between a self-consciously constructed and self-aware avatar and the handpicked highlights of interpersonal drama he has chosen to share with strangers.

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Facebook’s New News Feed

In the world according to Facebook we are bits expressing ostentatious enthusiasm or we do not exist. So argues Rob Horning at The New Inquiry.

Facebook is like a television that monitors to see how much you are laughing and changes the channel if it decides you aren’t laughing hard enough. It hopes to engrain in users the idea that if your response to something isn’t recordable, it doesn’t exist, because for Facebook, that is true. Your pleasure is its product, what it wants to sell to marketers, so if you don’t evince it, you are a worthless user wasting Facebook’s server space. In the world according to Facebook, emotional interiority doesn’t exist. Introspection doesn’t exist, and neither does ambivalence. There is only ostentatious enthusiasm or null dormancy.

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Why Vine Just Won’t Die

Vine and Instagram

Gif by Ariel Zambelich/WIRED

There is a struggle being waged for mobile video. Facebook has Instagram and Twitter has Vine. Even though Instagram’s video has a suite of features that make it a more powerful tool, Vine’s popularity persists. Mat Honan of WIRED thinks this has to do with Vine’s off-the-cuff youth culture, it’s dedicated community of minorities, it’s unique cultural force.

Facebook and Twitter are slugging it out to be your go-to social updating service. After the former snagged Instagram, the latter launched its own picture-sharing service. That’s spilled over into video, where there’s a proxy war going on between Facebook’s Instagram and Twitter’s Vine. Instagram appeared to be winning this–handily–based just on sharing. But Vine has proved surprisingly resilient, and as it turns out, it looks like it has a hidden killer feature: a distinct culture.

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