Force-Feeding: the Social Media Feed and the Loss of Personal Agency

Scrolling mindlessly past pins of vegan chocolate pudding, outfits of the day from Finnish fashion bloggers, and DIY tutorials galore, an image of a modelesque woman clad in a miniscule bikini gives me pause.  Emblazoned beside her leggy frame, hot pink print begs to know whether or not my body is “beach ready,” promising to provide me with “five easy steps” for achieving a flat stomach and toned thighs before summer!  As a body-positivist, I believe that any body wearing a swimsuit near the ocean is a “beach body” and have therefore never pinned any such glorifications of unrealistic beauty standards.  So, how did this photograph come to be plastered on the homepage of my Pinterest account?

Thought provokingly, in his book Net Smart: How to Thrive Online Howard Rheingold includes the answer to my question–news feeds, or the transformation of a user’s friends’ posts into a constantly updated homepage–in his discussion of Facebook’s privacy concerns, an introduction to a section on social media literacy (232).  He explains how to edit what information which you post is made visible, but other than unfollowing or unfriending an individual, when everything that your friends post appears automatically, how can you control what you see?  And how is this lack of control becoming worse as the Internet becomes, according to Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff, increasingly closed?

The invention of the news feed, a feature which has spread to nearly every social media platform, has severely limited one’s agency on the Internet by stripping users of the ability to locate their desired content, even within already closed applications.  Although to these sites all friends, followers, or those who are followed, are the same, I distinguish between them, psychologically sorting them into categories such as close friends, acquaintances, family and coworkers.  The amount of interest which I feel for what each of these individuals have to say varies with the section of my network that they fulfill.  Therefore, just as I wouldn’t each morning call the student who sits behind me in my French class and who constantly gossips about the goings-on of her sorority, I wouldn’t check her online profiles daily, either.  Because of news feeds, despite carefully curating my own online presence in accordance with Rheingold’s suggestions, I no longer seek out the content that I want to see but instead wake up to her Instagrams of alcohol fueled parties.

While for myself this lack of agency and its accompanying pictures of unhealthy lifestyles is simply an annoyance, it does become a serious problem when considering how parents can protect their children from bad examples online.  Sure, they can sit down and talk about social media together, as Amanda Enayati suggests in her article “Facebook: The encyclopedia of beauty?” but that doesn’t stop impressionable Internet users from being repeatedly exposed to these sorts of posts against their wills, possibly creating lasting impacts on their subconscious perceptions of life.  There’s got to be another way to insure that all one sees is what they (or their guardians) truly want to view!

That’s where Social Fixer (http://socialfixer.com/) comes in.  Social Fixer is a browser extension that allows Facebook users to regain control over their feed by blocking posts which include words that you don’t want to see.  For example, if you didn’t want posts about weight loss, you might choose to filter the words “diet,” “thinspiration” or “thinspo.”  Similarly, you can mute certain words on Twitter using the application TweetDeck ( https://tweetdeck.twitter.com/), which not only organizes your tweets but allows you to mute certain words.

With its news feeds, social media can seem uncontrollable but by improving technological literacy as Rheingold recommends, it becomes surprisingly easy to customize one’s online experience and thus take back personal agency.

 

 

 

 

 

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3 Responses to Force-Feeding: the Social Media Feed and the Loss of Personal Agency

  1. Livi Henley says:

    The idea that there is a way to prevent ourselves from seeing social media we know may trigger us, is brilliant. I don’t know why these filters are not better known or more widespread. These trigger preventing tools should be broadcast from the epicenter to the widest reaches of the internet that those who need it most can see them.

    If people trying to avoid triggers can still maintain web presence through using these tools, perhaps they could feel that they have power over their lives; they would be able to maintain their presence and continue on as normal, without worrying about a relapse or tailspin. This is encouraging that we are finding ways around such negativity.

  2. Krista Harder says:

    Until reading your post, I didn’t really think about the lack of control that we have in certain situations on the Internet. Instead of actively searching things, we often passively scroll through news feeds full of content that we may have no desire to see. For instance, one of my friends on Facebook constantly posted sexist jokes, pictures, and opinions about how “respectable women” should dress. I couldn’t resist commenting every time I saw one of these sexist posts, my blood boiling and my fingers typing madly. It added unnecessary anger to my day. I ultimately unfriended him, but for some reason it took awhile before that even occurred to me as an option. I was so caught up in just accepting what was on my news feed that I didn’t realize I should be able to control what I do or don’t see, that sites like Facebook can be positive forces if you have the power to cut out the offensive and dangerous images and words. In this way, Social Fixer seems like a fantastic tool to cut down on the irritating and potentially dangerous things that we view, and, like you said, it gives us more control over our online experiences. Thank you for sharing it; I’ll probably give it a try.
    However, a lot of the damaging comparisons on Facebook come simply from seeing the posts of other people who seem to have happier, more exciting lives. How do we protect vulnerable kids from envying the lives of others and feeling increasingly unsatisfied with their own lives without expecting them to just avoid social media altogether?

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