Messing up our minds

Submitted by AWL on 16 January, 2018 - 12:20 Author: Martin Thomas
flame wars

"Steve Bartlett, the company’s 25-year-old co-founder, regularly boasts to potential clients that he can make any hashtag trend on Twitter before he’s finished his presentation".

The Observer (14 January) reported on how Bartlett and his now multi-million pound company Social Chain shape how marketing is done on social media.

The report also sheds light on the low quality and corrupting effect of political argument carried out on social media - how it smothers real debate and investigation, and replaces it by constant churning of scandal and flame-warring.

"People share feelings, not information" online, says Hannah Anderson, the company's media director. "The stronger the emotion that a Facebook post, tweet or Instagram story elicits, the further it will be carried by the churning waves of algorithm... Low-arousal emotions such as contentment and relaxation are useless in the viral economy". You need to elicit frustration, anger, excitement.

Thus the company pushed up sales of a mobile-phone game by creating a story about the game "being horrendously frustrating, using photographs of smashed phones".

The company does that deliberately, calculatingly. The same approach spreads elsewhere by spontaneous selection. Observer journalist Simon Parkin comments that he has seen on Twitter: "a shift in tone from lightheartedness to a kind of weaponised outrage that runs across almost all social circles".

Bartlett, Anderson, and the other bosses at Social Chain are far from stereotype ruthless profiteers. "The company’s culture officer buys flowers and cakes to mark every employee’s birthday and anniversary".

The question is, how do we stop ourselves being defined by the manipulation of emotion, the synthesising of outrage, which streams into us from the social-media market.

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