She likes Misfits.

I always have great respect for Andy‘s work, but one of my favourites is his paper “Web 2.0: New Challenges for the Study of E-Democracy in an Era of Informational Exuberance” published last year in I/S: Journal of Law and Policy for the Information Society 5(1). It is full of insights but the bit to which I am drawing attention here is “behavioral feedback” (pp.38-39).

[…] web 2.0 environments tend to design in outcomes based on aggregated individual behavior. A record of the interactions in these environments—the simple posting of a one line message or the tagging of a video—is information that can be used to sell advertising space or to refine a service. In this way the data become valuable commodities in themselves. The basic informational value of citizens’ feedback on government sites is and should be seen as an important component of e-democracy, even though it does not conform to the deliberative ideal. […] Textual data in deliberative forums are valuable but labor-intensive to analyze in large quantities. Data from small-scale interactions such as ratings and polls are more amenable to statistical analysis. All of this predates web 2.0, but web 2.0 extends the principle through a more obvious emphasis on aggregating information based on user behavior rather than substantive textual commentary.

In a similar vein, I remember Josh Pasek making an interesting comment during his presentation at a conference hosted by the NPCU in 2008. Responding to an audience question about the (un)likely effects of Facebook activities on electoral outcomes, he mentioned that letting your friends know that you support a certain candidate by displaying such brief information on your profile page should be seen, although rudimentary, as a form of campaigning. (This presentation by Pasek and his colleagues was later published in a JITP special issue. Further details here.)

I have been thinking about the ‘Like’ button on Facebook – or more specifically the formerly known as ‘Become a Fan’ button. Not only in the political context. In fact, I doubt Facebook developers’ interest has ever been in politics. Rather, the development seems to have been geared around the ‘monetisability’ of data. Don’t get me wrong. I understand the developers gotta eat. Facebook is not a charity after all. But I am wondering out of personal curiosity how many users feel that Facebook is explicit enough about what the data collected is going to be used for and how. Here‘s a detailed article by the WSJ on Facebook’s so-called “social context ads” (where the image on the right is also from). Being profiled and exposed to selected adverts is one thing but becoming part of an advert is another, isn’t it?

Having said this, this wasn’t where my reflection on the topic started. Instead, as usual, it stemmed from a question why people want to use certain features like this one. Possible that there were no particular motivations. Like George Mallory said of Mount Everest, people might be using it “because it’s there”. But from a Goffmanesque perspective, I can’t help but hypothesise that things that a user ‘like’ on Facebook can always only be a subset of all things he/she likes. To put it another way, the subset consists only of things that he/she wants to be (or wouldn’t mind being) associated with publicly.

Well, of course I can’t speak for anyone but myself at the moment. As far as I am concerned, my principal reason for using the feature is endorsement. So far, I have actively looked into joining fan pages of Lark Rise to Candleford, NPCU, Amateur Transplants, Barenaked Ladies, Duke Ellington, Stacey Solomon, coriander (yes, the herb), Face of Boe, Adi Shamir, David Blaine, and Bassetts Mint Creams. I don’t know what these tell about me. Not that I care. However, there was one thing I consciously hesitated to put up on my profile page and eventually shied away from, for it contained ‘inappropriate content’. Ah, my “medieval Korean conservatism”, as somebody from my old university had once described it. The fact that I self-censored has been bothering me though. So, this post is confessional.

Misfits reruns on Channel 4 on Saturdays at 10pm before Season 2 comes on in autumn. I found it simply brilliant when it was aired first time last year. Now there, I said it.

(Image from the official website)


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