FEEDBACK LOOPS AND SOCIAL MEDIA | MESO-LEVEL CAUSES | ETHNOGRAPHY OF BUREAUCRACY
Sociologist Zeynep Tufekci engages with Adam Mosseri, who runs the Facebook News Feed
Tufekci: “…Facebook does not ask people what they want, in the moment or any other way. It sets up structures, incentives, metrics & runs with it.”
Mosseri: “We actually ask 10s of thousands of people a day how much they want to see specific stories in the News Feed, in addition to other things.”
Tufekci: “That’s not asking your users, that’s research on your product. Imagine a Facebook whose customers are users—you’d do so much differently. I mean asking all people, in deliberate fashion, with sensible defaults—there are always defaults—even giving them choices they can change…Think of the targeting offered to advertisers—with support to make them more effective—and flip the possibilities, with users as customers. The users are offered very little in comparison. The metrics are mostly momentary and implicit. That’s a recipe to play to impulse.”
See the end of this newsletter for an extended comment from Jay.
- On looping effects (paywall): “This chapter argues that today's understanding of causal processes in human affairs relies crucially on concepts of ‘human kinds’ which are a product of the modern social sciences, with their concern for classification, quantification, and intervention. Child abuse, homosexuality, teenage pregnancy, and multiple personality are examples of such recently established human kinds. What distinguishes human kinds from ‘natural kinds’, is that they have specific ‘looping effects’. By coming into existence through social scientists' classifications, human kinds change the people thus classified.” Link. ht Jay
Mechanisms and causes between micro and macro
“It is fairly well accepted that there are social mechanisms underlying various patterns of the social world — free-rider problems, communications networks, etc. But the examples that come readily to mind are generally specified at the level of individuals. The new institutionalists, for example, describe numerous social mechanisms that explain social outcomes; but these mechanisms typically have to do with the actions that purposive individuals take within a given set of rules and incentives.
“The question here is whether we can also make sense of the notion of a mechanism that takes place at the social level. Are there meso-level social mechanisms? (As always, it is acknowledged that social stuff depends on the actions of the actors.)”
In the post, Little defines a causal mechanism and a meso-level mechanism, then offers example research.
“…It is possible to identify a raft of social explanations in sociology that represent causal assertions of social mechanisms linking one meso-level condition to another. Here are a few examples:
- Al Young: decreasing social isolation causes rising inter-group hostility (link)
- Michael Mann: the presence of paramilitary organizations makes fascist mobilization more likely (link)
- Robert Sampson: features of neighborhoods influence crime rates (link)
- Chuck Tilly: the availability of trust networks makes political mobilization more likely (link)
- Robert Brenner: the divided sovereignty system of French feudalism impeded agricultural modernization (link)
- Charles Perrow: legislative control of regulatory agencies causes poor enforcement performance (link)