Bioethics Blogs

Web Roundup: How Do You Feel Today? by Emily Goldsher-Diamond

New Facebook reactions, the expansion of “like” options to include “love,” “sad” and “angry” emoticons (among others), is just one way affect has collided with technology this month. Zuckerberg and co. collaborated with the Greater Good Science Center team to produce “scientifically faithful” icons. No longer must you experience your feelings bounded within the body; instead, Facebook provides you with a convenient stable from which to choose and share with. Not only that, but timelines will reflect your emotional feedback. Affective surveillance of this nature promises to be quite valuable for marketers and Facebook’s engineers. But where does that leave users?

Perhaps it is helpful to think about the way Facebook reactions assume a stable link between the emoticon and the one emotion it represents. Over at The Washington Post blog The Intersect, Caitlin Dewey makes the case for “secondary, non-semantic meanings for emoji — the ways people use certain symbols and icons that have nothing to do with their designer’s intent or the physical object that they correspond to in the real world.” Did Facebook anticipate the freedom of lively images to stand in for a range of meanings, or is the site banking on the power of certain universal images (like the smiley face) to win over users? Then again, it is unlikely the change is truly about individual users. Slate’s Amanda Hess writes, “Facebook’s business model relies on aggregating and interpreting data on a massive scale, so it makes sense to focus on developing behaviors that can be understood in the aggregate.”

If you end up using the “angry” or “sad” icons too frequently, maybe your Facebook timeline will begin suggesting new mental health mobile applications like Happify and Pacifica.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.