Homecoming Video to Students: “You Are Not Wanted”

Earlier this week a student group linked to the University of Wisconsin-Madison Homecoming Committee launched a homecoming video in which they celebrated being “in a state of Wi” (an obvious play on words for the abbreviation of the state of Wisconsin). However, the video seemed to lack any minority representation, with all but one or two students shown in the video being white. Senior Payton Wade reported that video shot as part of the project that she was involved with wasn’t used in the final video, even though she was assured that it would be. Wade said in social media posts that she and other members of the historically black sorority she is a part of, the Epsilon Delta Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, were asked to participate in the video. “Not only did we tell them what we thought home was but we also took hours out of our day to film as well and were told we would be in the video and notified when it was completed,” she said. “Being Black at this school is a daily struggle both mentally and physically,” Wade explained. “It is hard to have pride for a school where you know you are not wanted and where they obviously do not consider this our home as well.”

Student reaction was swift. Anthony Wright, a 2015 graduate of UW-Madison said in a tweet, “Y’all can’t hire folks who are doing the editing and outreach that maybe share some of the identities missing from this video who could call out how this missed the mark? Is your staff diverse? Even if they aren’t, shouldn’t we be able to see this video isn’t?” Interestingly, a voiceover in the video claims, “we represent 127 countries and all 50 states. We have broken barriers, made changes and can say that home is forever and always where we are.” The university’s Homecoming Committee issued an apology (shown below), but pulled the video from its social media accounts.

Screen Shot 2019-10-02 at 1.38.41 PM

This case recalls the UW-Madison 2001 admissions  brochure in which an African-American student was Photoshopped into an image of white students attending a game at the university’s stadium. What is it that leads to, as former student Wright asks, this video “not being called out” presumably in the production process before it even gets launched? How is this video similar to the 2001 brochure case? In what ways is it different?

Sources: dailymail.co.uk; nbcnews.com

Facebook Wants to End the “Popularity Contest”

facebookFacebook has announced that it will begin testing the hiding of like counts from posts on user’s news feeds. Although authors will see likes on their own status updates, they will be unable to see the numbers of likes on updates posted by those who they follow. (They will still see the number of comments their followers’ posts get and be able to see the different emojis used to express likes on their posts.) According to Tech Crunch, the testing—which will begin in Australia—is being initiated in an effort to improve users’ well-being by eliminating the psychologically damaging “popularity contest.” How the change would look to the average user is illustrated in the graphic below.

Interestingly, although like counts would disappear from friends’ status updates, Facebook reports that the data would still be used by algorithms to drive traffic on user’s news feeds. So although one would not see the number of likes that a friend’s update is getting, if the update is popular it would presumably rise to the top of one’s news feed. Whether or not users would ultimately get wise to this remains to be seen.

Facebook-Hides-Likes

What also remains to be seen is how hiding like counts will reduce or eliminate the practice of social comparison that critics have long believed leads to envy and ultimately to anxiety. A number of studies have shown that such problems occur most often as a result of “passive” Facebook use, in which users casually scroll through their news feeds. As reported on Tech Crunch, one 2013 study “found that 20 percent of envy-inducing situations that experiment participants experienced were on Facebook, and that ‘intensity of passive following is likely to reduce users’ life satisfaction in the long-run, as it triggers upward social comparison and invidious emotions.’” In other words, users “compare their seemingly boring life to the well-liked glamorous moments shared by friends or celebrities and conclude they were lesser.” Additionally, researchers assert that “Facebook users can even exhibit a ‘self-promotion – envy spiral’ where they increasingly adopt narcissistic behaviors and glorify their lives in an attempt to compete with the rest of their social graph.”  The New York Times’ Jenna Wortham describes this as “success theater:” where people only show the best side of themselves on social media, and hide all the warts of real life.

Over the years there has been no shortage of criticism leveled at Facebook for profiting from such user distress. Now, however, Facebook seems to be recognizing that taking care of users is in its best interest. As Mark Zuckerberg said in a recent conference call, “protecting our community is more important than maximizing our profits. It’s important to remember that Facebook is about bringing people closer together and enabling meaningful social interactions; it’s not primarily about consuming content passively.” Time will tell if this particular test proves him right. According to Tech Crunch, “if the test improves people’s sense of well-being without tanking user engagement, it could expand to more countries or even roll out to everyone.” But what if the test does tank user engagement? Will we return to the popularity contest?

Sources: cnet.com; techcrunch.com