Emotions and Digital Well-being. The rationalistic bias of social media design in online deliberations

In Christopher Burr & Luciano Floridi (eds.), Ethics of digital well-being: a multidisciplinary approach. Springer. pp. 139-150 (2020)
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In this chapter we argue that emotions are mediated in an incomplete way in online social media because of the heavy reliance on textual messages which fosters a rationalistic bias and an inclination towards less nuanced emotional expressions. This incompleteness can happen either by obscuring emotions, showing less than the original intensity, misinterpreting emotions, or eliciting emotions without feedback and context. Online interactions and deliberations tend to contribute rather than overcome stalemates and informational bubbles, partially due to prevalence of anti-social emotions. It is tempting to see emotions as being the cause of the problem of online verbal aggression and bullying. However, we argue that social media are actually designed in a predominantly rationalistic way, because of the reliance on text-based communication, thereby filtering out social emotions and leaving space for easily expressed antisocial emotions. Based on research on emotions that sees these as key ingredients to moral interaction and deliberation, as well as on research on text-based versus non-verbal communication, we propose a richer understanding of emotions, requiring different designs of online deliberation platforms. We propose that such designs should move from text-centred designs and should find ways to incorporate the complete expression of the full range of human emotions so that these can play a constructive role in online deliberations.

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Lavinia Marin
Delft University of Technology


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