Methods of Social Media and Bullshit

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Rasmus Kleis Nielsen von der Uni Oxford in meinem neuen Lieblings-Kommuniqué im SocialMedia+Society-Journal über Social Media and Bullshit (PDF) (via Improbable Research), in dem er Harry Frankfurts 2005er Philosophie-Klassiker On Bullshit (Amazon-Partnerlink) für unsere Schöne Neue Welt aktualisiert:

Bullshit is here to stay, and we need to take it seriously intellectually and analytically to understand social media.

Hier ein paar Snips aus dem PDF:

Abstract
To understand the role of social media in society, we have to understand how social media are understood. We need to analyze how different actors and organizations see and think about technology, the forms of knowledge that people draw on as they make sense of, develop, and use social media. Central among these is bullshit. This short essay discusses bullshit as defined by the philosopher Harry Frankfurt as statements made with little or no concern for their truth-value or justification and argues that social media are accompanied by unusually large amounts of bullshit for two reasons. First, they confront us with epistemological problems and are hard to understand. Second, there is a large demand for knowledge about what they mean, a powerful political economy that generates a lot of statements about social media, including substantial amounts of bullshit. Given the rapid development of social media and their growing importance, this is unlikely to change in the near future. Bullshit is here to stay, and we need to take it seriously intellectually and analytically to understand social media.


To understand the role of social media in society, we have to understand how social media are understood. We need to analyze how different actors and organizations see and think about technology, the forms of knowledge that people draw on as they make sense of, develop, and use social media. Central among these is bullshit.

Bullshit can be found across all the different forms of knowledge (operational, representational, and explanatory) and kinds of knowledge producers (lay, professional, and academic) involved with social media. No one has a monopoly on bullshit. We all occasionally resort to it and act upon it. This is precisely why it is important. It is hard to say with any degree of precision how much there is (both numerator and denominator are hard to quantify). But I will offer as a hypothesis that bullshit is particularly common when it comes to social media, for two reasons.

First, as Frankfurt (2005) notes, “bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about” (p. 15). Social media—as an imprecise term referring loosely to a very large and diverse set of relatively new technologies and practices with no natural edges that are evolving very rapidly, often intersect with each other and many other phenomena in complex ways, and are embedded in many very different settings—seem to invite this kind of talk. Furthermore, our relative ignorance of the total population and the universe of cases (let alone their properties) undermines our ability to rely on conventional methods of analytic and statistical generalization, even when we have very robust knowledge of particular phenomena. So, social media are epistemologically exposed to bullshit because it is hard to understand social media if by “understand” one means knowing something about it with a degree of reliability and validity on the basis of agreed-upon terminology and forms of justification.

Second, the “circumstances” that Frankfurt refers to are not simply a relative dearth of justified knowledge about social media. It also involves the high demand for knowledge, or at least statements that may pass for knowledge, about social media. The demand comes both from legacy organizations of various sort (governments, businesses, media, social movements, etc.), individuals in their capacity as lay people (parents thinking about their children, people looking for a date, activists trying to change the world, etc.), and, of course, the companies operating and developing social media. Many actors, some of them powerful, feel impelled to act upon, engage with, and have views of social media, even though they may know little about them. This demand underpins a highly generative political economy for the production of statements about social media. In a situation characterized by the epistemic problems briefly outlined above is likely to also produce a lot of bullshit.

Tags: Bullshit Internet

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