This week, social media and big data have been in the news.
On Monday, two new reports were released on the Russian disinformation campaign designed to influence the 2016 election. The reach and scope of those efforts, according to the reports, were much larger than original estimates.
Those new reports, prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee — one by Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project and Graphika, a network analysis firm, and the second by researchers for New Knowledge, Columbia University and Canfield Research — Revealed efforts to mobilize conservative voters, divide Americans on a number of controversial issues, and suppress African American turnout.
Russian efforts to manipulate Americans and influence American politics saw a steep increase in 2014 and every year after. Teams of operatives, including the Putin-connected Internet Research Agency, were shown to have used multiple platforms to target voters by political interests, geography, religion, race and other factors. The Russians initially began with Twitter accounts before adding YouTube, Instagram and Facebook, according to one report.
And, of course, information shared publicly by hundreds of millions of Americans didn’t exactly make their jobs harder.
But the purpose of this particular column is not to lecture you on being more careful about what information you share, or to stress the importance of media literacy in an era of ACTUAL “fake news.” (Besides, I’m pretty sure I’ve written those columns in the not-so-distant past.)
No, this week I’d like to talk about the other side of that coin — that is, the impulse to go out of one’s way to share information across platforms. Specifically, I’m looking at Spotify (and, to a lesser degree, YouTube). Yes — we do that.
Benjamin Johnson, an advertising professor at the University of Florida, published a study in “Computers in Human Behavior” earlier this year. Johnson’s findings seemed to confirm what we already believed. The article, “Click here to look clever: Self-presentation via selective sharing of music and film on social media,” shows that, as it turns out, we are indeed inclined to share the mass media consumption we feel makes us look cooler.
And, anecdotally, I can confirm this to be true. I can think of at least a handful of Facebook friends who I think are cool based almost entirely on the music they share.
Conversely, Johnson confirmed the existence of another motive — something he calls the “actual-self motive,” which might drive someone to share a “guilty pleasure.” While this probably won’t make them look cooler, it gives their friends and followers a potentially-embarrassing peek at who they actually are.
Earlier this month, Spotify released to its 83 million users “Spotify Wrapped”—an individualized year-in-review revealing how much time they spent listening to their most popular songs and artists. It led to an absolute sharing frenzy.
“If you use social media, you’ve almost certainly seen people you know posting screencapped portions of their Wrapped results alongside some highly enthused observation,” wrote Haley Weiss last week for “The Atlantic.” “Their top five artists ‘so perfectly encapsulated’ them. Their data were thrown out of whack after they fell asleep one too many times listening to artists with names like White Noise for Baby Sleep. A friend texted me that ‘seeing top songs on Spotify Wrapped is like seeing an old best friend that you lost touch with.’”
Both Johnson and Weiss gave Spotify points for avoiding the “creepiness factor” that one might encounter on other platforms. This is avoided, they say, by giving users increased control of what is shared across platforms or how their data is used.
If you’re a Spotify user, I’d encourage you to spend a little time with Wrapped (which may be on a playlist called “Your Top Songs 2018”), and think about what might be worth sharing — and what you’d rather keep to yourself.
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