Author Archives: meganboler

Boler in Media

How social media echo chambers influence your emotions and your political compass

An expert explains how Facebook lives on psychology, politics and your attention, by Megan DeLaire, Dec 22, 2020

“The fact that we no longer have privacy in the digital sphere means our political system is increasingly being run by algorithms, by social media operations that are influencing what news we receive and what political ads we receive according to what they know about us,” she said.

“And they are reinforcing what we’ve told them about ourselves until we are a more rabid version of ourselves.”

What is an echo chamber?

An echo chamber is an environment in which a person encounters mostly beliefs and opinions that support and reinforce their own. These beliefs “echo” continuously, while alternative ideas are largely absent or ignored.

Facebook produces echo chambers in two ways: by using algorithms — coded instructions that automate the platform’s functions — to filter the content users see, and by relying on users’ tendency to interact with people whose opinions align with their own.

Since Facebook earns revenue through ad space on the platform and posts that capture users’ attention also draw their attention to ads, Facebook places content that will generate an emotional response in front of the users most likely to react.

“A really emotional story is going to be profitable for advertising because a lot of people look at it,” Boler said. “And those are eyeballs on ads.”

As Facebook gathers sophisticated data about a user through their activity on the platform, as well as on third party apps and websites that are linked to their Facebook account, it learns what kind of content is most likely to hold that user’s attention, which leads to more ad revenue.

One topic that tends to inflame passions is politics. Since showing people consistently partisan content tends to nudge them toward either end of the political spectrum, she said Facebook can, and does, influence how people vote.

Users also create their own echo chambers by befriending people they share opinions with and blocking and “unfriending” people they don’t. The result is that users’ Facebook feeds show content that reinforces their beliefs rather than content that presents alternative viewpoints.

What can you do about it?

Boler believes Facebook users can weaken the impact of echo chambers on the platform in a few ways.

They can limit the amount of information they feed Facebook’s algorithms by adjusting their privacy settings to remove Facebook’s access to their data on third party websites and apps, and they can close the app on their phone when not actively using it, to prevent it from gathering data in the background.

They can also make an effort not to ignore, “unfriend” or block Facebook friends whose perspectives don’t align with theirs.

Most importantly, she said, they can develop a healthy, diverse independent media diet that includes “ideally five to 10 media sources, including publicly owned sources such as CBC, international sources like the Guardian and independent and corporate media.”

If we don’t take these steps, she said, our democratic system could suffer.

“People should care about this,” Boler said. “Because it’s very clear social media is eroding democracy and it is eroding our capacity to have conversations across the political aisle.”

https://www.toronto.com/news-story/10292506-how-social-media-echo-chambers-influence-your-emotions-and-your-political-compass/

Boler in Media, Biden Wins, November 7

Trump would have done ‘terrible damage’ in second term: Political experts in Canada sound off on the future of U.S. politics under Joe Biden, Kamala Harris

“Once disinformation or misinformation goes out, the opportunity to correct it is extremely difficult,” Boler told Yahoo Canada. “Even if people do see that correction, a very small percentage tend to change their opinion and some studies have shown that it even just reinforces the original misinformation.”

“We’ve known from the beginning that the Republicans have had a systematic strategy around voter disinformation that is probably the primary disinformation of this election, whereas in 2016 it was Russian interference.”

Another interesting component of this election has been the discourse around “fake news,” which wasn’t as much of a significant factor in the 2016 election.

“It’s very hard to know where to turn and what to trust,” Boler said. “This has been part of the systematic propaganda work of Trump to create this whole discourse on fake news.”

“That really didn’t exist prior to 2016,…not this really quick, knee-jerk presumption that all of the trusted news sources that arguably are part of what constitutes United States democracy, are now distrusted by huge swathes of the population.”

full story: https://ca.news.yahoo.com/us-election-joe-biden-kamala-harris-us-election-donald-trump-canada-032402767.html

Join us this Wednesday Dec. 2! “The Least Racist Person in this Room”: Digital Affect, the U.S. Election, and the Upside Down of Identity Politics

Megan Boler, Professor, SJE OISE and Elizabeth Davis, PhD Candidate, SJE OISE

editors, The Affective Politics of Digital Media: Propaganda By Other Means (Routledge 2021)

Wednesday December 2, 2020 1:00 p.m.- 3:00 p.m. EDT 

Register through Zoom: https://oise-utoronto.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZYtcuqqrTwsG9JDgYJPM6E6xtRdBTgdzaSd

Join us for a presentation and discussion of the U.S. election, the rise of (digital) fascism, and the shifting discourses around racism in the United States. SJE Professor Megan Boler and SJE doctoral candidate Elizabeth Davis will discuss questions of race, affect, and disinformation, specifically the ways in which the right has co-opted the “identity politics” rhetoric and logic originally developed by the left in the context of post-civil rights social movements. What sense can we make of this Upside Down world of identity discourse, in which “white male identity” is seen as suffering harm from the unfair “privileges” of people of color, women, and diversity and inclusion measures? This convoluted context of fascist digital media culture, affective politics, and the reversal of left-wing and liberal idioms of identity contextualizes Donald Trump’s bizarre recent claim to be “the least racist person in this room.”  While Trump lost the 2020 U.S. election, Trumpism is poised to continue to bear on the future of politics. How do we understand this media and political context,  increasing partisan polarization, and the shape of social justice in the wake of Trump? 

Megan Boler is Professor in the Social Justice Education Department at OISE/University of Toronto. Her books include Feeling Power: Emotions and Education (Routledge, 1999), Digital Media and Democracy: Tactics in Hard Time (MIT Press, 2008), and DIY Citizenship (Ratto and Boler, MIT Press, 2014). Her current funded research engages mixed-methods to examine how race-based disinformation weaponizes emotion within social media to influence elections.

Elizabeth Davis is a PhD candidate in Social Justice Education at the OISE/University of Toronto. She researches the senses, sentiments, and structures of feeling drawing on materialist, feminist, critical race, disability, media, and cultural studies approaches, and is presently completing her dissertation entitled ‘If You’re Woke You Dig It’: Affective Politics, Critical Consciousness, and the Coloniality of Feeling.” You can find her articles in Theory & EventEmotion, Space and Society; and The Senses and Society.

New Book! Affective Politics of Digital Media: Propaganda By Other Means, eds. M. Boler and E. Davis

Thrilled to announce our new book just published by Routledge — (use code FLR40 for a 20% discount on purchase)!

from our Introduction:

Digital media has ushered in propaganda by other means—new strategies for mobilizing and capturing affect and emotion. How are feelings like fear, disgust, outrage, and resentment being used to capture attention, generate profits, manipulate political opinion, and influence election outcomes around the world? How have platforms and news agencies commodified our emotions to attract readers? How have “identity politics” become weaponized by right-wing actors to fuel racism, misogyny, and nationalism? How do we understand the extreme right turn in politics since 2016, and make sense of the fallout from ongoing Brexit events and Trump’s presidency? To answer these questions, this book expands the study of media and political communications, bridging humanities and social sciences to examine the affective weaponization of communications technologies.

Table of Contents

Preface by Jodi Dean

Introduction: Propaganda by Other Means, Megan Boler and Elizabeth Davis

Part I: Theorizing Media and Affect 

Chapter 1: Affect, Media, Movement: Interview with Susanna Paasonen and Zizi Papacharissi 

Chapter 2: Reverberation, Affect, and Digital Politics of Responsibility, Adi Kuntsman

Chapter 3: “Fuck Your Feelings”: The Affective Weaponization of Facts and Reason, Sun-ha Hong

Chapter 4: Blockchain, Affect, and Digital Teleologies, Olivier Jutel

Chapter 5: Becoming Kind: A Political Affect for Post-Truth Times, Ed Cohen

Chapter 6: Beyond Behaviorism and Black Boxes: The Future of Media Theory Interview with Wendy Chun, Warren Sack, and Sarah Sharma

Part II: Affective Media, Social Media, and Journalism: New Relationships

Chapter 7: Pioneering Countercultural Conservatism: Limbaugh, Drudge, and Breitbart, Anthony Nadler

Chapter 8: Breitbart’s Attacks on Mainstream Media: Victories, Victimhood, and Vilification, Jason Roberts and Karin Wahl-Jorgensen 

Chapter 9: Algorithmic Enclaves: Affective Politics and Algorithms in the Neoliberal Social Media Landscape, Merlyna Lim

Chapter 10: Hashtagging the Québec Mosque Shooting: Twitter Discourses of Resistance, Mourning and Islamophobia, Yasmin Jiwani and Ahmed Al-Rawi

Chapter 11: Hindu Nationalism, News Channels, and “Post-Truth” Twitter: A Case Study of “Love Jihad”, Zeinab Farokhi

Chapter 12: Computational Propaganda and the News: Journalists’ Perceptions of the Effects of Digital Manipulation on Reporting, Kerry Ann Carter Persen and Samuel C. Woolley

Part III: Exploitation of Emotions in Digital Media: Propaganda and Profit

Chapter 13: Empathic Media, Emotional AI, and the Optimization of Disinformation, Vian Bakir and Andrew McStay

Chapter 14: The Heart’s Content: The Emotional Turn at Upworthy, Robert Hunt

Chapter 15: Empires of Feeling: Social Media and Emotive Politics, Luke Stark

Chapter 16: Nudging Interventions in Regulating the Digital Gangsters in an Era of Friction-Free Surveillance Capitalism, Leslie Regan Shade

Chapter 17: Digital Propaganda and Emotional Micro-Targeting: Interview with Jonathan Albright, Carole Cadwalladr, Paolo Gerbaudo, and Tamsin Shaw

Harvard Disinformation Workshop

In early October I had the opportunity to present at the international Comparative Approaches to Disinformation Workshop held at Harvard University, an incredible event with phenomenally cutting-edge presentations from around the world (sponsored by The Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society and the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy).

My talk, “Affect, Elections, and Social Media: Understanding the Emotional Dimensions of Propaganda,” shared preliminary findings from my current SSHRC funded, three-year research project, which examines the role of emotional expression in social media related to narratives of racial and national identity and belonging, in the context of the recent 2019 Canadian federal election and the upcoming 2020 U.S. election. 

https://cyber.harvard.edu/story/2019-09/comparative-approaches-disinformation

Forthcoming Edited Collection, “Affect, Algorithms and Propaganda: Interdisciplinary Research for the Age of ‘Post-Truth’ Media,” coming in 2020!

Following our successful collaborations, and the International Symposium (supported by a SSHRC Connections Grant) we hosted at the University of Toronto this past June, I am co-editing with Elizabeth Davis a cutting-edge collection titled Affect, Algorithms and Propaganda: Interdisciplinary Research for the Age of “Post-Truth” Media. Our aim is to have the book published by summer, 2020.

This book responds to the need for robust interdisciplinary scholarship on the relationship between modern information economies, digitally mediated sociality and emotionality, the resurgence of Western fascisms, and the rise of grassroots justice (and injustice) movements. “Post-truth”, the 2016 word of the year, achieved zeitgeist status in news around the world after “Brexit” and the U.S. Election of Donald Trump. Defined by “circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief” (Oxford Dictionaries, n.d.)., skyrocketing use of the term evidenced public recognition of the powerful role of emotion in politics. Since then, the political context has only become more dire as information increases about the role of political operatives (such as the Trump campaign, Russian government, and Cambridge Analytica) in promoting “computational propaganda”, sowing mistrust and disinformation during elections and fomenting crises of trust in government and media. The rise of “fake news,” and the preponderance of right-wing and extremist views that dominate social and traditional media platforms, reveal the urgent need to understand how propaganda, (dis)information, affect, and emotion circulate through digital technologies. Political imagination is increasingly shaped by the nexus of corporate, military and political logics manifesting in and through algorithmic governance, psychometric profiling, and computational propaganda. Such uses of bioinformatics and micro-targeting made possible by the merging of behavioral science and big data foreground the critical role of emotion and affect in contemporary information warfare. What has become clear is that digital media propaganda, algorithms, and activism (known as “platform politics”) seek to inflame pre-existing emotional tensions surrounding racism, islamophobia, misogyny, and LGBTQ politics.  

Yet, while scholarship and investigative journalism continues to reveal the profound ways that emotional manipulation forms the center of today’s mediated political and economic landscapes, very little research takes stock of the philosophical study of emotion and the last three decades of the so-called “affective turn.” As a result, virtually all scholarship addressing the current crises of affective politics rely on limited, individualist models of understanding emotion from psychology, and have yet to benefit from enriched understandings of the sociality, and history, of emotions. Still less attention has been paid to the relationship between the contemporary affective politics and the actual political consequences, which is to say, the unequal stakes of the current political environment for people of color, women, immigrants, muslims, and other subordinated groups. 

This collection contributes much-needed cross-disciplinary approaches to the study of emotion, affect, digital media and politics, to address urgent questions including: How are political actors targeting emotions through digital media platforms to exacerbate racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, spread disinformation, and influence political behavior? What can we learn from the “post-truth” context beyond political punditry and journalistic self-aggrandizing, what does it signify, and what does it obscure? How are algorithms and mediated sociality affecting our sense of trust, truths, and what kinds of affective networks shape one’s sense of trust and truth? How can we track the evolution of the current affective politics of social media, and how do the different components of this landscape (including political, economic, military, and social movement actors) function? And what kinds of analyses are needed to understand the different political, military, and private sector actors involved in the current crises, and hold them accountable?    

To that end, this book uniquely brings together inter- and trans-disciplinary scholarship on affect and emotion, digital and social media, with a focus on critical race, feminist and anti-colonial/decolonial studies. In the interest of modeling the promise of inter- and cross-disciplinary scholarly collaboration, the collection features contributions from philosophy, media and communications studies, feminist and critical race studies, as well as public and private sector researchers to address the broad range of questions that need to be asked at this historical juncture in media, technology and politics: what is the relationship between emotion, truth, the crisis of trust in traditional media, the rise of fascism and right wing extremism, digital surveillance, social media, algorithmic governance, and neoliberal capitalism? What are the research and policy directions that need to be considered by academics as well as policy makers and journalists?

New Funded Research Projects Underway!

I have been awarded two major research grants to continue my exploration of the role of emotions and affect in circulating social media and disinformation related to narratives of racial and national belonging, in the context of the upcoming 2019 Canadian election and the 2020 U.S. Presidential election.

This spring, I was awarded a three-year Insight Grant from the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, titled “Digital Dissenters and Polarized Politics: Affect, Identity, and Social Media in the U.S. and Canadian Elections”. With a Research Team of brilliant graduate students — six qualitative and two quantitative researchers — we have commenced our mixed-methods study of social media related to the October 21, 2019 Canadian Federal election.

I was also awarded a research grant from the Digital Ecosystem Research Challenge which supports the appointment of two Research Assistants to conduct sentiment analysis of large-scale data sets provided by McGill University partners in the Digital Ecosystem Research Project. This project is entitled “Affective Media, Social Movements, and Digital Dissent: Emotions and Democratic Participation in the ‘Post-Truth’ Era.”

Affect, Propaganda, and Political Imagination Symposium June 7-9, 2019, University of Toronto

This weekend, 16 participants from six countries are coming to University of Toronto to participate in my (SSHRC Connections Grant-funded) invitational Symposium on the subject of “Affect, Propaganda, and Political Imagination”. The invited interdisciplinary scholars will share works-in-progress to be published as an edited book with Taylor and Francis and a special journal issue. The aim of our collaborative symposium is to develop better understandings of the following issues:

Public attention to the targeting of emotion and affect — ideologically labelled “post-truth” politics —  confirms what many scholars have long recognized regarding the central role of emotion and affect in reproducing hegemony.  Yet scholarship in the humanities and social sciences falls far behind the political realities. Despite the “emotional” and “affective” turns across many disciplines over the last 30 years, there remains a glaring need for conversations across disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, to develop new approaches to understanding the rapidly changing configurations of affect, propaganda, and politics within digital media landscapes.

Invited participants are: Asma Abbas, Carolyn Pedwell, Adi Kuntsman, Yasmin Jiwani, Merlyna Lim, Ed Cohen, Luke Stark, Leslie Regan Shade, Ezekiel Dixon-Roman, Stephen Kovats, Marnie Ritchie, Rob Hunt, Giulia Evolvi, Dan Adleman, Elizabeth Davis, Michael Primrose, and Hoda Gharib.

Navigating the News Workshop

My fabulous Graduate Research Team will be conducting a workshop with me at a local Toronto Housing Cooperative Community this April 10.

Navigating the News: Panel and Discussion with Professor Megan Boler (Social Justice Education, OISE/University of Toronto) and Navigating News Research Team: Kate Jackson, Gordon Katic, Michael Primrose

Overwhelmed or confused by the news media environment?  How to choose what to read? How to identify trustworthy sources?  Debating whether to quit Facebook? The panel provides an overview of the challenges posed by information overload and digital propaganda in the news media environment. We address:

  • the phenomenon of filter bubbles, fake news, increasing political polarization and public mistrust of media
  • the history of journalistic ethics and commitments to democracy
  • how the alt-right capitalizes on social media to disseminate ideologies, influence and recruit
  • debates about “disconnecting” from Facebook and other social media

We will conclude with a discussion of whether critical reading skills provide sufficient defense in the face of new modalities of propaganda.