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Research suggests social media ‘likes’ can amplify moral outrage

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Yale researchers looking at online behaviour found that social media sites ‘create incentives that change how users react to political events’.

Leaving an indignant comment on Facebook or tweeting an angry response might feel cathartic, but what is the impact of these messages of moral outrage? New research from Yale has found that they might be spurring people on.

In a study published today (13 August) in the journal Science Advances, researchers used machine learning to measure moral outrage on Twitter while controversial events were occurring. They also studied the behaviour of participants in controlled experiments that aimed to see how social media algorithms might encourage outraged opinions.

“Social media’s incentives are changing the tone of our political conversations online,” said Yale’s William Brady, a postdoctoral researcher in the university’s Department of Psychology and first author of the study. He led the research with Molly Crockett, an associate professor of psychology at Yale.

“This is the first evidence that some people learn to express more outrage over time because they are rewarded by the basic design of social media.”

How social media could affect us

Brady and Crockett were interested in the nature of platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Do they simply provide a stage for people to express their views or is there a more complex cycle of factors at play? Could these systems be amplifying moral outrage?

There was no existing technical evidence of this, as quantifying and measuring complex social expressions such as moral outrage poses a technical challenge, the researchers said.

They suspected reinforcement and norm learning could be two mechanisms through which outraged expressions might increase. Likes and shares on outraged posts would increase the incentive to make similar posts in the future, while seeing others expressing these opinions would create a status quo to be followed.

To gather evidence, Brady and Crockett assembled a team to build machine learning software that was able to track instances of moral outrage on Twitter posts. This was key to the researchers’ goal of working with real-world samples. Events such as a United Airlines passenger being forcibly removed from a plane were chosen, with a total of 12.7m tweets being analysed from 7,331 users.

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Researchers examined whether users expressed more outrage over time, and found that users who received more likes and retweets were more likely to express outrage in future posts.

‘Amplification of moral outrage is a clear consequence of social media’s business model, which optimises for user engagement’
– DR MOLLY CROCKETT

The researchers also carried out controlled behavioural experiments with 240 participants that showed being rewarded for expressing outrage caused users to express more outrage over time.

“Our studies find that people with politically moderate friends and followers are more sensitive to social feedback that reinforces their outrage expressions,” Crockett said.

“This suggests a mechanism for how moderate groups can become politically radicalised over time – the rewards of social media create positive feedback loops that exacerbate outrage.”

How society copes with moral outrage

Crockett highlighted that the study did not intend to say whether amplifying moral outrage is good or bad for society, but it did suggest possible implications for leaders who use the platforms.

“Amplification of moral outrage is a clear consequence of social media’s business model, which optimises for user engagement,” Crockett said.

“Given that moral outrage plays a crucial role in social and political change, we should be aware that tech companies, through the design of their platforms, have the ability to influence the success or failure of collective movements.

“Our data show that social media platforms do not merely reflect what is happening in society. Platforms create incentives that change how users react to political events over time.”

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Amazon Web Services outage hits sites and apps such as IMDb and Tinder | Amazon

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Several Amazon services – including its website, Prime Video and applications that use Amazon Web Services (AWS) – went down for thousands of users on Tuesday.

Amazon said the outage was probably due to problems related to application programming interface (API), which is a set of protocols for building and integrating application software, Reuters reported.

“We are experiencing API and console issues in the US-East-1 Region,” Amazon said in a report on its service health dashboard, adding that it had identified the cause. By late late afternoon the outage appeared to be partially resolved, with the company saying that it was “working towards full recovery”.

“With the network device issues resolved, we are now working towards recovery of any impaired services,” the company said on the dashboard.

Downdetector showed more than 24,000 incidents of people reporting problems with Amazon. It tracks outages by collating status reports from a number of sources, including user-submitted errors on its platform.

The outage was also affecting delivery operations. Amazon’s warehouse operation use AWS and experienced disruptions, spokesperson Richard Rocha told the Washington Post. A Washington state Amazon driver said his facility had been “at a standstill” since Tuesday morning, CNBC reported.

Other services, including Amazon’s Ring security cameras, mobile banking app Chime and robot vacuum cleaner maker iRobot were also facing difficulties, according to their social media pages.

Ring said it was aware of the issue and working to resolve it. “A major Amazon Web Services (AWS) outage is currently impacting our iRobot Home App,” iRobot said on its website.

Other websites and apps affected include the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), language learning provider Duolingo and dating site Tinder, according to Downdetector.

The outage also affected presale tickets for Adele’s upcoming performances in Las Vegas. “Due to an Amazon Web Services (AWS) outage impacting companies globally, all Adele Verified Fan Presales scheduled for today have been moved to tomorrow to ensure a better experience,” Ticketmaster said on Twitter.

In June, websites including the Guardian, Reddit, Amazon, CNN, PayPal, Spotify, Al Jazeera Media Network and the New York Times were hit by a widespread hour-long outage linked to US-based content delivery network provider Fastly Inc, a smaller rival of AWS.

In July, Amazon experienced a disruption in its online stores service, which lasted for nearly two hours and affected more than 38,000 users.

Users have experienced 27 outages over the past 12 months on Amazon, according to the web tool reviewing website ToolTester.



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South Korea sets reliability standards for Big Tech • The Register

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South Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT has offered Big Tech some advice on how to make their services suitably resilient, and added an obligation to notify users – in Korean – when they fail.

The guidelines apply to Google, Meta (parent company of Facebook), Netflix, Naver, Kakao and Wavve. All have been told to improve their response to faults by beefing up preemptive error detection and verification systems, and create back up storage systems that enable quick content recovery.

The guidelines offer methods Big Tech can use to measure user loads, then plan accordingly to ensure their services remain available. Uptime requirements are not spelled out.

Big techs is already rather good at resilience. Google literally wrote the book on site reliability engineering.

The guidelines refer to legislation colloquially known as the “Netflix law” which requires major service outages be reported to the Ministry.

That law builds on another enacted in 2020 that made online content service providers responsible for the quality of their streaming services. It was put in place after a number of outages, including one where notifications of the problem were made on the offending company’s social media site – but only in English.

The new regulations follow South Korean telcos’ recent attempts to have platforms that guzzle their bandwidth pay for the privilege. Mobile carrier SK Broadband took legal action in October of this year, demanding Netflix pitch in some cash for the amount of bandwidth that streaming shows – such as Squid Game – consume.

In response, Netflix pointed at its own free content delivery network, Open Connect, which helps carriers to reduce traffic. Netflix then accused SK Broadband of trying to double up on profits by collecting fees from consumers and content providers at the same time.

For the record, Naver and Kakao pay carriers, while Apple TV+ and Disney+ have at the very least given lip service to the idea.

Korea isn’t the only place where telcos have noticed Big Tech taking up more than its fair share of bandwidth. The European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO) published a letter from ten telco CEOs asking that larger platforms “contribute fairly to network costs”. ®

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Twitter acquires Slack competitor Quill to improve its messaging services

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As part of the acquisition, Quill will be shutting down at the end of the week as its team joins the social media company.

Twitter has acquired the messaging platform Quill, seen as a potential competitor to Slack, in order to improve its messaging tools and services.

Quill announced that it will be shutting down at the end of the week as its team joins the social media company to continue its original goal “to make online communication more thoughtful, and more effective, for everyone”.

The purchase of Quill could be linked to Twitter’s new strategy to reduce its reliance on ad revenue and attract paying subscribers.

Twitter’s general manager for core tech, Nick Caldwell, described Quill as a “fresher, more deliberate way to communicate. We’re bringing their experience and creativity to Twitter as we work to make messaging tools like DMs a more useful and expressive way people can have conversations on the service”.

Users of Quill have until 11 December to export their team message history before the servers are fully shut down at 1pm PST (9pm Irish time). The announcement has instructions for users who wish to import their chat history into Slack and states that all active teams will be issued full refunds.

The team thanked its users and said: “We can’t wait to show you what we’ll be working on next.”

Quill was launched in February with the goal to remove the overwhelming aspects of other messaging services and give users a more deliberate and focused form of online chat.

In an online post, Quill creator Ludwig Pettersson said: “We started Quill to increase the quality of human communication. Excited to keep doing just that, at Twitter.”

The company became a potential competitor for Slack, which was bought by Salesforce at the end of 2020 for $27.7bn. The goal of that acquisition was to combine Salesforce’s CRM platform with Slack’s communications tools to create a unified service tailored to digital-led teams around the world.

Last week, Salesforce announced the promotion of Bret Taylor to vice-chair and co-CEO, just days after he was appointed independent chair of Twitter after CEO Jack Dorsey stepped down.

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