Exploring Issues of Social Curation in Online Spaces…

So, upfront, this is my blog. If you’re looking for commentary or “dialogue” about the content on my blog, I’d peruse the margins…

Discussion

Hello~

Hope everyone had a nice and healthy week. I’m back up and kicking. This week, I got the chance to catch up on a lot of work. One of the things I needed to work on apparently was refining my idea for the field guide (aka my research project(?)). After discussing my thoughts with Dr. Zamora and my concerns about this whole “finding a solution” thing a concept that I fundamentally disagree with, I believe I narrowed down my focus. I still want to investigate the performing vs. living issue but through the lens of social curation.

So, social curation, according to a comment left on a Quora query about it, “is an organic activity that continuously aggregates and ranks content deemed most relevant, valued and of the greatest utility (e.g., “just in time” insight) to users. Sources of content can be published media, real-time information exchange (archived), or continuously evolving content (e.g., wiki, Quora). The social dynamic of content curation is individual and collective input, output and evolution of thought.” Essentially, social curation refers to how we organize and navigate content in online spaces. It is the way of the Internet currently. More than just organization content, though, social curation refers to how organization practices affect our interactions with content.

Much research has been done on the effects of evaluative features such as “Like” buttons on social media platforms. One study has looked at how social curation occurs on Pinterest, while another study (which won’t let hypothes.is run? I tried to download it as a PDF and tried to adjust my settings but nope so idk?) has looked at the effects of social curation on adolescent neurological and behavioral responses (to which an article has been written in response). Much of this research revolves around understanding user interactions in a socially curated system. What I find most interesting about this kind of research is the effects social curation has on emotional expressions as well as overall self-esteem and self-worth. More, I find that social curation is one of the processes that strongly contributes to this false sense of reality the Internet creates. This process is, in part, responsible for the creation of so-called “echo chambers” as well as for Internet virality in general. Influencers and the like are trying to tap into this “social curation” process and either become the content that is being circulated or become the subject that curated content revolves around.

Thought social curation has certainly been around in varying capacities beyond/before the web, its use as an organizing system in online spaces presents some problems. Mainly, what is perhaps most troubling is the false sense of reality it can perpetuate. It seems very easy for someone to fall into a hole, so to speak, and not even notice that the information they are interacting with is being decided not by an objective audience but by a process of social curation conducted by like-minded peers. Often, evaluative features like “Like” buttons and ❤ buttons facilitate social curation On Facebook, there is a variety of react options to choose from which provides this false sense of diversified expression when, in reality, our emotional range is being curated for us by the social media platform. More, we’re being socialized by sites like Instagram (where only ❤ reacts exist) to react positively or not at all to online content. Rather than online spaces being these immersive spaces where discovery and disappointment can occur, they are becoming these heavily curated spaces limiting not only our emotional ranges but also changing how we respond to things in ways that can spill over into “real life”. I think this is problematic.

While it may be fun and more engaging for users in certain spaces to interact with “like-minded content” (like in an affinity space on Tumblr or in a hashtag on Twitter), having an entire Internet that is slowly being curated by social media seems like an over-reach and one that will affect perceptions of self and the world. Distorted images of self and the world are already prevalent in online spaces and have been prevalent in advertising practices since time in memoriam. We have seen the damage done thus far, especially to the youth who are growing up in a digital world where it is so easy to access platforms that may not be promoting the best perceptions. Addressing how social curation affects interactions and the overall environment of online spaces seems like an increasingly vital issue as digitization becomes more ubiquitous.

All this said, I do not know if there are exact steps that can be taken to fix this problem. More, I don’t feel comfortable providing one “quick fix”. If our discussions on issues of online spaces have revealed anything at all, it is that issues that concern the governing of practices and processes in online spaces are complex and not simply fixed. Because of those findings, I feel more comfortable suggesting steps that may help in alleviating the problems associated with social curation.

First, I think the models girding social media need to be changed to not rely upon evaluative interactions. Basically, ditch the “like” and ❤ buttons. Ditch all of those evaluative features. They are limiting interactions rather than expanding them. If interaction is the goal, comment features should be what is emphasized. Things that encourage and engage in discussion should be the focus. If Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are supposed to be public forums, then discussion in dialogue should always be the focus. Evaluative react buttons do not encourage discussion. They don’t expand or extend the conversation. I feel like a switch like this may instill feelings of anxiety similar to those around the whole texting vs. calling anxiety. Rather than comment or offer a “real” opinion or perspective, most people are probably more comfortable hitting a like button. In order for more measurably meaningful discourse to occur, though, I think evaluative features need to be removed from social media sites.

The “secondly” through the rest of my suggestions all revolve around shifting the profit model behind Internet sites like social media platforms and the mindset that has propelled it. All of these sites rely far too much upon user interaction in order to make a profit. To this end, ethics and conscientious design have gone out the window. Whatever gets more eyes on the screen is what goes. That needs to change. It’s allowing for the formation of echo chambers that stunt/stifle development of self and perspective of the world. There needs to be more of an incentive for creators and platforms to provide diversified content. More, the algorithms need to be recoded to provide diverse content rather than similar content. That needs to be incentivized. The US government should consider following Europe in imposing stricter regulations on how online platforms can collect and store data in order to create user profiles and so curate content for them. Notices that clearly state that content may not be objectively organized should be placed on certain sites. (I don’t mean some wimpy “the opinions and feelings expressed on this site do not reflect the values of the yada yada yada…” That’s weak.) Sites that don not have clear warnings or do not abide by imposed regulation should be taken down. That’s not “stifling free speech” or “open discussion”. Even if it was, the 1st amendment is not an excuse to be an assh*ole anyway. Regulations on content and “breaking up” social curation processes are meant to create spaces where free speech and the free flow of ideas can actually occur. And it’s wholly necessary ’cause little meaningful discourse is happening right now.

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Media

This seems like an interesting video on the topic as well (though I can’t find a video of it in full on Youtube? Idk if you can only view it at a screening?)

For an artistic example, I’d also like to include Alex Saum’s Ashes to Ashes #YOLO (2018) Epoetry piece as I feel lit speaks to concerns about the performance of life taking precedence over the experience of life. Also, it seems concerned about how Influencer culture curates what we value and how we value it.

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Concerns

In addition to the sources mentioned in this post, I’d like to include the article I annotated last week about implementing more humane design in Internet places, social media platforms especially. I think it provides necessary background information on how the Internet became the burning garbage fire it is today. Also, it explains what humane design is concerned with addressing as it relates to online spaces.

I owe you two more sources (which I can hopefully get through by Tuesday). Scouring the web for six relevant sources that meet the proposed criteria for this assignment is not easy, especially when those sources must then be annotated. I will find the sources I need to complete this project but, if you’ll excuse my honesty, I wish the research component of this project were more spaced out over the semester. It feels rushed right now and I feel stressed because all of these expectations for a full-blown research assignment have been stacked up at the end of the semester when final projects for other classes are due and, for those working on thesis projects, thesis work must be completed. I would’ve appreciated spreading out finding and annotating sources during the semester. The field guide wasn’t fleshed out until later on so I wasn’t specifically looking for sources that would’ve helped me now. The shape of the final project was vague for most of the semester which gave us room to free-associate and imagine but not so much to strategize. For people who are picking topics like privacy or surveillance, they’ll probably have a lot more use of the field guide sources collected since that was an overt focus of most of the class. But, for those of us following our own research interests, we have to basically find all of these sources from scratch.

Anyway, just stating my opinion for the record. I’ll get as much work done as I can for class on Tuesday. I’m wrapping on my thesis project, though. That is my main priority and I’m not going to apologize for that. I’ve been working very hard on it and I want to have a bomb presentation. It’s where my passion lies and that’s my future.

So, heads up, this week may not see everything requested fully completed. Not cause I don’t want to but I have no idea where I’m going to find the time to do it.

Update/To annotate:

This article

This one too?

~Till next time~

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7 Comments

  1. You’ve got more than enough going here (as usual). I am thinking there might be an avenue in connecting the performance question within the motivations, drive, obsession with the metrics of approval (likes and hearts) though I think you suggest there is a lot of research already done.

    Could it be a guide to be in places of social curation w/o the psychological drives of the buttons? Breaking the performance/checking cycl? A colleague of mine talked about the benefits of switching twitter apps to one that does not let him see the stream of like notifications. Adam yearns actually for a “dumb twitter” like the difference of simple phones versus smart phones https://adamcroom.com/2019/04/dumb-twitter/

    And just to be clear, you are not being asked to come up with fixes for the situation, more (and I think you get there), what are the steps individuals can take to either (a) be better informed or (b) live better in these spaces (rather than the approaches that encourage leaving them). You can’t take on changing the economics model that’s driving the platforms, what can people do to be stronger inside of them?

    Don’t sweat the 6 sources, we will refine this specification. We just want to make sure people do not pin their work on just one. You’ve covered your bases almost in this post. The goal of the field guide is to frame one slice of the things to be wary of, and advise what individuals can do when it looks like they are powerless.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Alan for your feedback! I’m sorry I always take so long to get back to you (I kind of forget about comments on WordPress).

      Anyway, I like the idea of a “dumb twitter” and think it could be one of the ways we navigate the digital world. Like we talked about today, it seems that a lot of this issue comes down to personal responsibility and how we make responsible choices in a space that is being increasingly designed to exploit our insecurities and weaknesses. Making decisions and being mindful is a challenge for a lot of us.

      As usual, you gave me a lot to consider moving forward with this project!

      Best regards always,

      Kelli~

      Like

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