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Too Titillating For Twitter: Why Outsourcing Social Media Participation Is Disconcerting
Evan Selinger   May 8, 2014   forbes.com  

The Los Angeles Times just updated the design of its online edition. One of the new features is called “sharelines,” and it’s basically summaries appearing at the top of articles that readers can click on to instantly tweet out. Even the editor’s super-succinct note introducing the changes begins with three of these talking points!

While this exercise in concise craftsmanship is informative and user-friendly, it’s also got disconcerting overtones. Seen in the larger context of technological development, it’s a wakeup call to examine how often we’re being asked to outsource labor at the expense of living up to our potential.

Look, the modification is easy to appreciate. Readers today share stories before they even read them! So, if a glance is all it takes to socially signal interest, placing sharelines at the very beginning of each piece makes lots of sense.

And, yes, this modification capitalizes on established habits rather than taxing us to step outside of our comfort zones and create new ones. Reader’s have grown accustomed to effortlessly clicking buttons to blast the titles of stories across social media, as well as pre-selected lines that journalists or editors highlight as evocative content.

I’m not proud to admit it, but I’ve even deliberately constructed sentences with an eye towards making them titillating to tweet. Much like SEO optimized headlines, this manipulation is hard to avoid in age of information abundance. At least that’s my go-to rationalization. How else could I sleep at night?

But with each new addition to the spectrum of possibilities for offering frictionless testimonials, readers are encouraged to believe that letting other people do their thinking is a normal and desirable occurrence. Why decide what’s worth saying when you can save time and energy by outsourcing that judgment?

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Evan Selinger is Associate Professor of Philosophy and MAGIC Center Head of Research Communications, Community & Ethics, both at Rochester Institute of Technology. Evan publishes extensively in the areas of philosophy of technology, privacy, and ethics/policy of science and technology. To enhance public debate about ethics, Evan regularly supplements his peer-reviewed scholarship with outreach articles in places like The AtlanticWiredSlateForbes,The Wall Street Journal, and The Nation.



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