This week, we’re reading an article from BBC explaining the spread of ignorance, a post from The Guardian about the accusations that Facebook is purposefully breaking its apps and an interview on re/code detailing Dose Media and the strategy of virality.
Agnotology: “the study of deliberate propagation of ignorance.” Since the 1970s, companies have purposefully blurred facts to spread confusion about ideas and products. Robert Proctor was at the forefront of understanding this phenomenon, focusing on the tobacco industry and their spreading of confusion. The tobacco industry spent billions of dollars purposefully confusing the general public about the effects that smoking had on health. Afterall, as Proctor said, “ignorance is power… and agnotology is about the deliberate creation of ignorance.” This practice is still alive and well today, and can often be seen in the political world. One common tactic is the idea that every debate has two sides, even though that notion creates a false understanding of the truth. The tobacco industry, for example, claimed experts “disagreed” about the effects of smoking, despite the commonality that many smokers ended up with poor health. Proctor warns that, even though information is readily available to those who seek to understand, “it’s not always accessed.”
To research and better understand user behavior, Facebook has long been known for live-testing features on their users. In their most recent tests, however, the social media giant has been accused of purposefully crashing their Android app just to see how users would react. The reason? This article from The Guardian says it all comes down to competition with Google. Fearing that their official app might be removed from the Google Play Store, Facebook was looking to see their Android users’ behavior would cause them to no longer use the site. Since there is no real replacement for Facebook, though, users don’t have much of an alternative and indicated that they would return to using to app even after long breaks, or even switch over to using the mobile web version. Although this research may have given Facebook the insight they were looking for, the reaction to Facebook conducting this research has been largely negative.
These days, the internet revolves heavily on virality and shareability. Users on the big social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are constantly spreading content by sharing articles and trends. The hard part is finding content that will go viral and getting it out to the right audiences. That’s exactly what Emerson Spartz, CEO of Dose Media, has focused on figuring out. As shared in this interview with re/code, Spartz has created software to automate the process. Finding the right headlines, images and keywords to go along with great content is a struggle that many companies are working to overcome. However, the Dose Media approach to finding content and resharing it is met with cynicism by others. Ultimately, though, Dose Media produces about 50 million visitors a month, all finding viral content tailored towards them.