How emotion trumps rationality in the world of Trump
Society is not benefitting from research into how emotions are abused for the sake of profit or ideology, while social media giants and other purveyors of spectacle profit handsomely.
“As reported in The New York Times, NYU psychologists studied how ‘moral emotional language’ moves more readily through Twitter than other kinds of emotion,” write Megan Boler and Elizabeth Davis, adding: “We urgently need to understand our emotional and a ective relationships to social media — and to knowledge itself — before Zuckerberg’s Facebook Frankenstein entirely reprograms humanity.” (DOUG CHAYKA / NYT)
By MEGAN BOLER ELIZABETH DAVIS Tues., Sept. 26, 2017
Facebook’s algorithms are at last a trending topic, identified as a game-changer of public opinion and hence in politics and elections. Why do algorithms and the microtargeting strategies of companies such as Cambridge Analytica work so effectively?
The elephant in the room is the role of emotion in contemporary politics. While marketing, advertising, cognitive and behaviour psychology, and neuroscience — have kept up with studies of emotion and affect, the humanities and social sciences have been asleep at the wheel.
Still crushed under the pressure of Enlightenment conceptions of “Rational Man,” scholars have focused on evermore intricate debates about rationality, at the expense of developing more nuanced understandings of how emotion shapes behaviours, subjectivity and politics.
As a result, society is not benefitting from research into how emotions are abused for the sake of profit or ideology, while social media giants and other purveyors of spectacle profit handsomely.
Microtargeting operates by directing advertising and other influential messages at individuals on the basis of “psychometrics” — user profiles extracted from personal data collected through their various “public” social media activities.
News reports allege that Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, received a crash course in Facebook’s marketing strategies when the Trump campaign realized it could use social media to target susceptible, undecided voters in order to sway the election. There is evidence, for example, that African-American voters were targeted with a message stating “Hillary thinks black people are superpredators,” designed to anger undecided voters and sway Clinton supporters to vote Trump, or stay home.
In addition to microtargeting that squashes public debate, another emotional aim of disinformation campaigns is to create emotional confusion and information anarchy, producing so much (dis)information that citizens become apathetic and opt out of news media altogether.
The emotional nature of contemporary politics and information is captured by the 2016 Word of the Year, “post-truth.” In 2016, there was a 2,000 per cent increase in the frequency of its usage. Post-truth is defined as “circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion