How’s Cairo? Hot? Mild? Does it ever get sandy in the city? I’ve always wondered….

Anyway, I’m getting off topic. It happens.

I hear you’re working on projects about digital literacy? So have we! …Well, kind of. We’re each researching a problem associated with the Internet and increasing digitization of daily life. The focus of my research is social curation in online spaces. Specifically, I’m looking at how social curation in online spaces affects our emotional engagement IRL.

I wrote a whole post about social curation and my thoughts around it but for those of you who aren’t familiar, social curation 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” (source). 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.

Social curation contributes to the development of so-called “echo chambers” as well as to the rise of Influencer culture. It relates to “trending” topics and includes things like evaluative features (“likes” on FB and <3s on Insta) on social media and reaction gifs. Often, these evaluative features make us feel that we are providing thoughtful interaction with content when, in reality, we are merely being provided the illusion of meaningful engagement by these platforms that profit off of our engagement. Our reactions and emotions are being curated/engineered, which could be affecting our emotional range IRL.

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.

Though 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.

Alex Saum’s Ashes to Ashes #YOLO (2018) Epoetry piece seems to speak to concerns about the performance of life taking precedence over the experience of life as well. Also, it seems concerned about how Influencer culture curates what we value and how we value it.

At least, this is all what I believe to be the case and this is the focus of my research. What do you think, though?

Do you think that social curation in online spaces is affecting our own perceptions and emotions IRL? Can social media sites like Insta and FB be redesigned to not include evaluative features and still be functional? How could sites be designed to garner different interactions? To encourage less passive, shallow engagement and more active dialogue and discussion?

Let me know~


~Till next time~

Shared by: Kelli
Image Credit: Unknown