Reddit thinks it’s a government, but doesn’t want to govern

In non-spoof news, today Reddit’s CEO posted a blog post about why it wasn’t going to take down a community specifically devoted to sharing naked photos of celebrities acquired by hackers and very much not endorsed by those pictured. Then, having drawn a line in the sand, it promptly banned the community. That caused, unsurprisingly, a lot of users to react with confusion and not a little anger, pointing out – among other things – that ban was more than a little hypocritical if Reddit was going to continue not to police other problematic communities (pro-anorexia and self harm communities, for instance), and suggesting that Reddit’s response was only because of the status, profile and power of the victims in this instance (the site doesn’t take down revenge porn, for example). There’s been another round of explanation, which boils down to: Reddit got overwhelmed and therefore had to take action. That actually bolsters some of the arguments made by users – that it’s only the high-profile nature of this incident that forced action – but if the first post is to be believed, Reddit doesn’t see that as a problem. It wants the community to choose to be “virtuous” rather than being compelled to do so – it wants its users to govern themselves. But it also thinks it’s a government. Yishan says:

… we consider ourselves not just a company running a website where one can post links and discuss them, but the government of a new type of community. The role and responsibility of a government differs from that of a private corporation, in that it exercises restraint in the usage of its powers.

Yishan simultaneously argues that Reddit users must arrive at their own self-policing anarchic nirvana in which no bad actors exist, and that Reddit is not a corporation but a governing force which has both the right to police and, strangely, the responsibility not to do so. Of course Reddit is a corporation, subject to US and international laws. Of course its community is not a state, and its users are not citizens. Yishan is dressing up a slavish devotion to freedom of speech regardless of consequence as a lofty ideal rather than the most convenient way to cope with a community rife with unpleasant, unethical and often unlawful behaviour. Doxxing, revenge porn, copyright infringement so rampant it’s a running joke, r/PicsOfDeadKids: none of these things are dealt with according to the social norms and laws of the societies of which Reddit is, in reality, a part. Only when admins become overwhelmed is action taken to police its community, and at the same time the CEO declares the site to be, effectively, the creator of its own laws. This would be nothing but self-serving nonsense if it weren’t for the way it’s being used to justify ignoring harmful community behaviours. Reddit’s users are right to point out that the company only acts on high-profile issues, that Reddit’s lack of moral standards for its users allows these situations to develop and makes it much harder for the company to police them when they do, and that the site’s users suffer as a result of its haphazard approach:

This is just what happens when your stance is that anything goes. If you allow subreddits devoted to sex with dogs, of course people will be outraged when you take down something else. If you allow subreddits like /r/niggers,of course they’re going to be assholes who gang up to brigade. The fine users of /r/jailbait are sharing kiddy porn? What a shocking revelation. The point is, you can’t let the inmates run the asylum and then get shocked when someone smears shit on the wall. Stand up for standards for a change. Actually make a stance for what you want reddit to be. You’ll piss off some people but who cares? They’re the shitty people you don’t want anyway. Instead you just alienate good users who are sick of all of the shit on the walls.

If Reddit thinks it’s a government, it should be considering how to govern well, not how to absolve itself of the responsibility to govern at all.

Pocket Lint #21: sound and fury

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The Times of London is pumping increasingly frenetic typewriter noises into its newsroom.

An excellent primer on this week’s implosion in videogame culture.

Today, videogames are for everyone. I mean this in an almost destructive way. Videogames, to read the other side of the same statement, are not for you. You do not get to own videogames. No one gets to own videogames when they are for everyone. They add up to more than any one group.”

“When there’s no immediate threat to our understanding of the world, we change our beliefs. It’s when that change contradicts something we’ve long held as important that problems occur.”

Stereotype lift persists online with virtual, gendered avatars.

The Man Without a Mask: How the drag queen Cassandro became a star of Mexican wrestling.

How social media silences debate.

“Banning comments—or moderating with an iron fist—is not squelching honest and open debate in the public sphere, anymore than refusing to publish every letter to the editor, unedited, in a print publication. Telling people to take their bullshit to Reddit is not a harbinger of Orwellian dystopia.

Classic first lines from novels in emojis.

How to listen to the radio properly: BBC guidance from 1940.

Tumblr of the week: Slug Solos.

Poem of the week: Mr. Grumpledump’s Song, Shel Silverstein.

Game of the week: Gridland, a match-3 game with a building/fighting day/night cycle.

Do real names really make people nicer online?

Mathew Ingram at GigaOm has an interesting look at some Livefyre research suggesting that if you force people to use their real names to comment on your site, the vast majority will just stop commenting.

Most of those surveyed said that they responded anonymously (or pseudonymously) because they didn’t want their opinions to impact their work or professional life by being attached to their real names, or when they wanted the point of their comment to be the focus rather than their identity or background. And close to 80 percent of those surveyed said that if a site forced them to login with their offline identity, they would choose not to comment at all.

The bottom line is that by requiring real names, sites may decrease the potential for bad behavior, but they also significantly decrease the likelihood that many of their readers will comment.

That led me to an interesting question this morning: do real names really reduce the potential for bad behaviour in comments? It’s a popularly held belief, but there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of evidence out there to support the idea that meatspace identities are any more useful than persistent pseudonyms when it comes to holding people accountable for their actions online. On Twitter, Martin Belam points out:

…but there’s a big gap between “named staff members early in comment threads” and “real names for everyone”.

I can find some evidence that persistent pseudonymity is a positive thing. Disqus did a very large study in 2012 on their comments database; though their methodology is opaque, their results showed pseudonymous commenters posted both the largest number and the highest quality comments across their network. Pseudonyms make people more collaborative and more talkative in learning environments; they positively influence information sharing; they encourage people to share more about themselves in the relative safety of an identity disconnected from meatspace.

There’s also evidence that anonymity – a complete lack of identifiers and nothing to chain your interactions together to form a persona, as distinct from pseudonymity, where you pick your own identity then stick with it – is a negative influence on the civility of debate, and that it engenders more adversarial conversations in which fewer people’s minds are changed.

There’s a Czech study into the differences between anonymity and pseudonymity and how to design for reduced aggression, apparently, but the actual link 404s and the abstract isn’t detailed on the difference. There’s interesting research into the social cost of cheap, easily replaceable pseudonyms, which allow effective anonymity through the evasion of reputation consequences; Reddit and Twitter are great examples of communities where you can see this behaviour in action.

Investigating this issue isn’t helped by the fact that researchers have in the past conflated anonymous and pseudonymous behaviours, but there’s increasing awareness now that the two engender big community differences; it’s also skewed by places like 4chan and Reddit being prominently discussed while less adversarial communities like Tumblr or fandom communities are less often scrutinised. (Male-dominated communities are covered more than female-dominated communities, and widely seen as more typical: so it goes.)

I’ve found one study that suggests anonymity makes for less civil comments, but I can’t access the full study to find out what it says about pseudonymity. There are suggestions, like Martin’s, that moderation helps keep things civil; there’s evidence that genuine consequences for poor behaviour helps too. And there’s this:

“While evidence from South Korea, China, and Facebook is insufficient to draw conclusions about the long-term impacts of real name registration, the cases do provide insight into the formidable difficulties of implementing a real name system.”

But where’s the proof Facebook is right when it claims its real name policy is vital for civility on the site? Where’s the evidence that Facebook comments are more civil than a news site’s because of the identity attached, rather than because the news site goes largely unmoderated and Facebook’s comment plugin broadcasts your words to everyone you know on there? Or because most people just don’t comment any more, so arguments die faster? I am struggling to find one study that demonstrates a causal link.

So this is an open request: if you know of more studies that indicate that denying pseudonymity improves comment quality, let me know on Twitter @newsmary or share them in the comments here. If I’m wrong, and it makes a big difference, it’d be great to be better informed. And if I’m right, and it’s community norms, moderation and reputational consequences that matter, it’d be great to put the idea that real names are a magic bullet for community issues to bed once and for all.

The chilling effect

I’m finding myself withdrawing from Twitter a little, at the moment. Some of that is an ongoing process that started when I moved to Australia and left much of my busy timeline behind; friends are living at different times now, and Twitter is different out here. But some is a response to the corrosive atmosphere around games right now, and the way it’s come to a head in the form of the attacks on Depression Quest developer Zoe Quinn over the last week.

The whole situation has become far too complicated for most folks to follow, but, broadly speaking, it started with a disgruntled ex making unpleasant allegations about private affairs very publicly, went through a point where indie game devs were having accounts hacked just for saying publicly that they supported Zoe, and is now at a stage where people seem to think it’s a good idea to dress up as fantasy racing birds and protest the state of games journalism ethics to get the attention of the “real media”, as though reporting on unsubstantiated allegations by an interested party would be good journalism rather than abysmally, impossibly awful. Liz Ryerson has a very strong round-up of the state of affairs here.

So.

There are consequences for speaking out. There are always consequences. I’m logging on to Twitter, almost any time of the day or night, and I’m seeing friends frustrated by dealing with people who want to tear them down for supporting a friend, a colleague, someone whose work they admire. The chilling effect here is huge, and not just applicable to those who have already spoken. I am finding myself withdrawing because I can’t face watching this happen again, after watching friends and colleagues and people whose work I admire driven completely out of the industry in the past.

And I’m frustrated with myself, because I have a platform that intersects with the games industry. I have a committed hobbyist relationship with videogames; I play a great deal, write about some, and occasionally create strange little pieces. If I was ever going to have a professional career in videogames, that was scotched long before the women I’m watching being pushed out now, when my all-girls’ school refused me permission to cross over to the boys’ school to study IT and electronics when I was 14. (Institutional sexism: it’s a thing.) So I have a platform as someone with an interest but no financial stake, and a successful career as a non-games journalist, and the ability to stand up and say, as a person and a gamer and a journo: this is not OK.

And yet. The chilling effect is such that I am frightened to do so. I use Twitter for work; turning off my mentions and retreating until an attack dissipates is an option that hurts me professionally. I have a mental illness, and I do not know how that might interact with a coordinated attack. Visibility is power, when it comes to speaking out against this bullshit. Visibility is also a great weakness.

This is how I’m feeling, watching a woman being attacked for daring to be female and make games and remain human. Relatively speaking, I’m both protected and powerful. Now imagine how it must feel to watch without that protection or that power. Imagine how it might feel as a teenager who wants to make games, watching someone who looks like you be punished for doing so. Imagine how it affects your choices, not just about whether or not to withdraw from Twitter but whether or not to take certain classes, or whether or not to release side projects online. Imagine trying to decide whether your future creative happiness is worth risking this level of psychological violence. Imagine doing it anyway, and being attacked for it. Imagine deciding that opposing it is too dangerous, and joining the chorus out of self-preservation, in the hope that maybe, just maybe, they won’t attack you next time.

The people involved in these attacks, the hacks themselves but also the vicious teardowns of Quinn’s works and reputation and the harassment of her supporters, just want women to shut up. It’s not about games and it sure as hell isn’t about journalistic ethics; it’s just about keeping girls out of the clubhouse by any means necessary. They don’t like it when we speak, and they really don’t like it when we shout back. But I can’t be pushed out of an industry I’m not in; all I can do is discuss things on the sidelines. If I get attacked for doing so, all it’ll do is prove my point.

Pocket Lint #20: Snowblind

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10 Beautiful Interracial Arrests.

We study white people. We are taught this as a tool of survival. We know when there is unrest in the souls of white folks. We know that unrest, if not assuaged quickly, will lead to black death. Our suspicions, unlike those of white people, are proven right time and time again.”

Can we imagine, for a minute, what it would look like if officers were trained in mediation? What if you called the police when you witnessed a violent fight; officers arrived ready to separate the parties, come to a non-violent resolution, and make sure each person got home safely. As long as they are connected to the system of incarceration, we cannot expect the police to take this role.”

Fark adds misogyny to its moderation guidelines.

Hellhole: on the US prison system’s use of solitary confinement as torture.

Ted talks are lying to you.

Adderall’s technology problem: “Tech should to be a viable career path, not an investment market for a wealthy select few who aren’t on the ground floor. And it should be an inclusive industry that doesn’t favor the young, able, and self-destructive. But if we maintain this idolization of high-producing individuals, the rat race will persist. As long as there is an economic incentive to harm oneself in hopes of performing the superhuman, those who will not — or, for those of us with ADHD, cannot — will remain subhuman.”

The P.T. Twitch stream that first revealed the game’s secret: a strange, extremely scary free demo released on the PS4 turns out to be a trailer for an absolutely huge videogaming collaboration. And will probably be better than the final game.

My partner’s Kickstarting his game Goblin Quest, and a Twine game coauthored with me is one of the stretch goals. It’s going well so far.

The etymology of “cladly dressed”.

“Many of these women come from hours away, one from a little town on the Kentucky border that’s a seven-hour drive. They don’t know much about Dr. Parker… What they do know is this: He is the doctor who is going to stop them from being pregnant.”

Tumblr of the week: If They Gunned Me Down.

Poem of the week: Common, A Letter To The Law.

Game of the week: Kindness Coins.

Reporting suicide: how not to kill your readers

Yesterday, as I went to work, news broke that actor and comedian Robin Williams had been found dead in his flat in a suspected suicide. Today, as I woke up, the UK newspaper front pages were being released on Twitter.

The Sun and the Metro have decided to go with details of how Robin Williams killed himself, while the Mail and the Mirror focussed on the reasons why. (The Mail Online goes into excruciating detail on the methods Williams used, but does so in the body copy of an article.) All four are cheerfully ignoring the Samaritan’s guidelines on media reporting of suicide, which cite evidence that “Vulnerable individuals may be influenced to engage in imitative behaviours by reports of suicide, particularly if the coverage is extensive, prominent, sensationalist and/or explicitly describes the method of suicide.”

Let’s be clear, this is not a hypothetical danger: a review of almost 100 studies worldwide has found a strong, coherent and consistent association between certain types of media reporting and increased risk of suicide in vulnerable people, and the Bridgend suicides should be known by every UK journalist as an example of how the media can make things worse.

This is happening in the UK, where funding is being stripped from already-stretched mental health services at the same time as punitive welfare policies strip money from the poorest and force severely unwell people to attempt to work despite disabilities that make it impossible for them to do so safely. A population that is already incredibly vulnerable is being made more so by lack of access to treatment and to funds. The UK is currently in the grip of an acute mental health crisis. This context is important.

The reason the media isn’t supposed to talk about methods used is because that knowledge can turn someone who is passively suicidal into someone with an active plan. Knowing the distances dropped, the ligatures used, the medication taken, the blades employed, all of these things can give a suicidal person the knowledge of how to actually do the deed, how to go about taking their thoughts from the realm of the hypothetical into the realm of the real.

Of course, if they want, they can just Google that information, but that requires an act of will on their part; there’s a barrier that acts as another check, a moment where someone might look at what they are doing and consider other possibilities. Google also places helpline numbers prominently in its search results, which is more than some media manages in its reporting. (Side note: there is a story to be written about what changed in September 2010.) Plastering that knowledge all over every newspaper someone sees on their walk to work, in their local supermarket, in their train carriage, negates that barrier completely. It says: here is how you successfully kill yourself.

Even if they don’t contain step-by-step instructions on how to kill yourself, a wall of front pages tying suicide to a specific cause lends justification to a suicidal person’s internal logic that says suicide is a rational response. Suicidal thoughts are, for many people, a temporary problem; distracting yourself from them is a valid and sensible response, and sometimes the only way to stop yourself acting on them. It’s hard to maintain that distraction when a celebrity dies in this way; it’s harder still when the media seems to buy into the idea that money troubles, for example, are a reason for suicide. There is, inevitably, a search for meaning, and a desire to rationalise what’s happened, but reductionist and intrusive stories hurt the families of those who have died by telling them, in effect, that there might have been something they could have changed. They also tell suicidal readers that there are good reasons to die, sometimes; they reinforce the grim logic of acute depression. You can do this even with the most gentle, most well-meaning attempts to memorialise someone’s life.

The flip side of the media response is a slew of articles tying Robin Williams’ comedic genius inextricably to his depression and struggles with addiction. But he was brilliant despite his mental illness, not because of it. We search desperately in cases like this for a spark of hope, a positive spin, and find it in “divine madness”: the idea that his genius could only exist alongside his sadness. But without his brilliance, the madness would remain, and without his madness, the brilliance might have shone so much more brightly. You can be a genius without being depressed, and generally those without major chronic illnesses get a lot more done and have longer lives. There is a strange ambiguity about the “divine madness” narrative that feeds in, at lower levels, to anxieties about getting treatment. What if, without the depression, I am no longer me? What if I lose my creative spark? What if I lose the last of what makes life possible?

But the onus is still on us, the mentally ill, to seek treatment despite our (not always unfounded) fears that it might not work and might even harm us. We are told to talk about depression more, when talking is just about the last thing a depressed person wants to or feels able to do, and when most people aren’t interested in listening. We’re told to seek help, when in reality that help is often unavailable. The last time I needed serious therapy, it took 12 months for an appointment to become available; that was before the current crisis. I cannot imagine I would be able to negotiate the barriers to NHS assistance if I were suicidal in London this morning, even in my position of relative wealth, insight and access. But it’s entirely plausible that Robin Williams did manage to get the help he needed, and it just wasn’t enough. It isn’t enough for a lot of people. A lot of people die despite excellent care. We need more research, we need more treatment options, we need a revolution in mental healthcare. What we get are front pages that make our illnesses worse.

Fundamentally, the media doesn’t care about the guidelines. It doesn’t care about the people they’re meant to protect. Mentally ill people who die come in two types: the talented and brilliant, for whom death is an inevitable part of their brilliance, and the poor and underprivileged, whose deaths are irrelevant except where they interact with an existing story. The media doesn’t care about our deaths, unless we’re famous, and then it will pore over every gruesome detail regardless of how that might affect those of us still living, still struggling, still reading the news and still fighting for hope every day. What does it matter, after all, if a few more people succeed in killing themselves in the next few weeks? They were depressed. There was nothing anyone could have done.

Pocket Lint #19: make me a mandrake

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The American Room: “But for most of us life happens against a backdrop of intersecting off-white walls. Those are our homes, plain and a little grim. Our fantasy homes are busy with bright things yet old. Our pins and dreams are not beige. When we sleep we leave the computer behind and step out onto the widow’s walk, to wait for our sailors to come home from the sea.”

“I used to be a covered woman. I know what it’s like to be invisible.”

We are Sansa: “A Song of Ice and Fire is, in part, a series of books devoted to examining what happens when systems break down. Arya, who was never comfortable with the Westeros status quo to begin with, is slightly better set up to deal with immediate consequences of Ned’s execution and everything that follows. Sansa, on the other hand, becomes a prisoner of the chaos that develops around her. She has no coping mechanisms and no fallback position because she’s been raised to trust the system that is failing her.”

“If you’ve spent most of your life cruising ahead on natural ability, doing what came easily and quickly, every word you write becomes a test of just how much ability you have, every article a referendum on how good a writer you are.”

First night in Kyiv: “This was the third country in which I’d cried in a shower and checked my body for bruises as a by-product of trying to become a journalist.”

He’s still alive: Jenn Frank’s Game Journalism Prize-winning essay on That Dragon, Cancer.

Fish plays Pokemon, presumably in an attempt to update the infinite monkey theorem.

Turning postpartum depression into performance art.

I write this with a baseball bat by the bed.

BrbXOXO: live streams of sex webcam feeds when the performers are away.

Tumblr of the week: Manfeels Park, with apologies to Jane Austen and the BBC.

Poem of the week: Twickenham Garden, by John Donne.

Game of the week: One Chance.

Pocket Lint #18: mean meaning

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“We are still at a point that emoji semiotics are extremely malleable and where meaning can be actively created. This is especially true where the gaps between Japanese and Western culture have created a vacuum between original intent and subsequent interpretation, leading to a corral of seldom-used emojis, ready to have new meaning assigned to them.”

Here are some very small things Twitter could do to begin to address the problem of widespread abuse and harassment on its service.

The problems of understanding cunnilingus in the Middle Ages: “This constant emphasis on the male experience is all we have to try and see the full range of sexual experience.”

NOW THEN: an extraordinary piece by Adam Curtis on the history of surveillance, computing, AI, crime prediction and a great deal else. I’ve read it three times looking for a key quote and it’s too enmeshed to produce one. You should read it.

“The reason sickness is undesirable is not that it causes distress or discomfort but that it results in what is often called “lost productivity”. This is a sinister and absurd notion, predicated on the greedy fallacy of counting chickens before they have hatched. “Workplace absence through sickness was reported to cost British business £32bn a year,” the researcher claimed in Metro: a normal way of phrasing things today, but one with curious implications. The idea seems to be that business already has that money even though it hasn’t earned it yet and employees who fail to maintain “productivity” as a result of sickness or other reasons are, in effect, stealing this as yet entirely notional sum from their employers.”

Law of unintended consequences: Key-copying apps, designed to help you out by storing backups of your keys in case you get locked out, are also a potential boon for burglars.

The Darkness, an excellent comic drawn in 24 hours.

Pathfinder’s new iconic shaman is a badass trans dwarf woman.

The simple ways in which Kim Kardashian: Hollywood is more progressive than most AAA games.

“what tech-focused people often see of the games industry is the ugly side — for example, the rampant misogyny of mainstreams game developers, thoroughly illustrated by Anita Sarkeesian’s series Feminist Frequency. In response, there are frequent calls for better representation (of women, people of color, queer people, etc) in games — but what we often miss is that these people are, themselves, making games, which usually do include such representations — but which all too often go ignored or financially unsupported” – the missed connections between tech feminism and videogame zinesters

Tumblr of the week: Annals of Nope

Poem of the week: not one of my choosing, this week; instead I’m going to direct you to Ars Poetica, a new twice-weekly email of hand-picked poetry by a friend of mine.

Game of the week: Nested, because of reasons.

Pocket Lint #15: fear and loathing

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Ghosts of the tsunami.

“Even in dire situations, optimism can fuel innovation and lead to new tools to eliminate suffering. But if you never really see the people who are suffering, your optimism can’t help them. You will never change their world.

What can “Leaning In” do for us when once we do succeed by its metrics, unending public abuse awaits us? What happens when we finally establish ourselves on platforms, and then are chased from them? When success means needing security? When we are punished mercilessly for the very representation we are told to seek? When “representation” is what we need, but “visibility” destroys us?”

Prey is an astonishing, brutal, beautiful piece of writing about one woman’s experience of rape, her reactions and the subsequent trials where she was a witness.

No one is coming to take away your shitty toys: “The rise of mature games that don’t feature shitty characters and situations does not diminish your supply of immature shit in any way. It caters to a growing market of consumers who have just as much of a right to play a fucking videogame as you do, and doesn’t harm you at all.”

As flies to wanton boys are we to Facebook.

“If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us. No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn’t eventually come out. You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising. There are no counterexamples. None. It’s not if, it’s when.

This place is not a place of honour: how to keep people away from nuclear waste in 10,000 years’ time.

Tumblr of the week: Postapocalyptia.

Poem of the week: Emptying Town, Nick Flynn, with thanks to Leigh.

Game of the week: The End, a game about philosophy and death.

Facebook, let’s talk about harm

In news-that-ought-to-be-satire-but-isn’t, the AV Club reports, via New Scientist, that Facebook has been manipulating users’ feeds in order to test whether they can manipulate their emotions. 689,003 users, to be precise.

The full paper is here, and makes for interesting reading. The researchers found that, yes, emotional states are contagious across networks, even if you’re only seeing someone typing something and not interacting with them face-to-face. They also found that people who don’t see emotional words are less expressive – a “withdrawal effect”.

Where things get rather concerning is the part where Facebook didn’t bother telling any of its test subjects that they were being tested. The US has a few regulations governing clinical research that make clear informed consent must be given by human test subjects. Informed consent requires subjects to know that research is occurring, be given a description of the risks involved, and have the option to refuse to participate without being penalised. None of these things were available to the anonymous people involved in the study.

As it happens, I have to use Facebook for work. I also happen to have a chronic depressive disorder.

It would be interesting to know whether Facebook picked me for their experiment. It’d certainly be interesting to know whether they screened for mental health issues, and how they justified the lack of informed consent about the risks involved, given they had no way to screen out those with psychiatric and psychological disorders that might be exacerbated by emotional manipulations, however tangential or small.

The researchers chose to manipulate the news feed in order to remove or amplify emotional content, rather than by observing the effect of that content after the fact. There’s an argument here that Facebook manipulates the news feed all the time anyway, therefore this is justifiable – but unless Facebook is routinely A/B testing on its users’ happiness and emotional wellbeing, the two things are not equivalent. Testing where you click is different to testing what you feel. A 0.02% increase in video watch rates is not the same as a 0.02% increase in emotionally negative statements. One of these things has the potential for harm.

The effect the researchers found, in the end, was very small. That goes some way towards explaining their huge sample size: the actual contagion effect of negativity or positivity on any one individual is so tiny that it’s statistically significant only across a massive pool of people.

But we know that only because they did the research. What if the effect had been larger? What if the effect on the general population was small, but individuals with certain characteristics – perhaps, say, those with chronic depressive disorders – experienced much larger effects? At what point would the researchers have decided it would be a good idea to tell people, after the fact, that they had been deliberately harmed?