Designing Outrage, Programming Discord: A Critical Interface Analysis of Facebook as a Campaign Technology


Jennifer Sano-Franchini
Assistant Professor of Professional and Technical Writing, Virginia Tech


December 12, 2018 - 2:00 PM


December 12, 2018 - 3:00 PM

Designing Outrage, Programming Discord: A Critical Interface Analysis of Facebook as a Campaign Technology

Conversations around U.S. elections since Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign have centered in large part on a social networking site once designed to bring college students together. Facebook has become a source from which a significant number of voters and potential voters, at least in the U.S. context, receive news and information about candidates and political issues (Mitchell, Gottfried, and Matsa, 2015; Gottfried and Shearer, 2016; Desilver, 2014). As social media has played an increasingly significant role as a campaign technology, there emerges a need to examine the fluid relationship between user experience (UX) design of social media and election outcomes.

The gravity of that relationship was highlighted in recent controversies surrounding the indictment of twelve Russian intelligence officials for interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The February 2018 indictment of Russia’s Internet Research Agency (IRA) states that the IRA “had a strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system” and to “[spread] distrust towards…the political system in general” (p. 6). These events have highlighted how Facebook worked as a political tool for sowing outrage, fear, and distrust online. That is, Facebook succumbed to—and profited from—“bad actors” through psycho-social means, by re-programming the emotions and affective orientations through which users interacted with online content, and with one another.

This webinar takes the case of Facebook to explore how social media interfaces shape how we interact with—and feel about—one another, asking: If Facebook’s UI is the medium through which particular interactions and affective orientations are facilitated, how are those activities and dispositions inscribed in and through the interface itself? The speaker will share findings from an analysis of Facebook’s UI, with a focus on four key microinteractions (browsing, reacting, commenting, and posting). As a result, attendees will come away from this webinar with:

(1) an understanding of how social media interfaces affect how users interact with digital content and with one another; and

(2) strategies for more fully considering the wide-ranging impacts of technology design, including its effects on human relationships, empathy, and understanding; on social dynamics; and on our political climate.

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