A Reaction to a Trashy Facebook Video
September 10th 2017
Now hold the phone. I literally just posted a blog post on my site a few minutes ago but never mind that, it was just about my classes and stuff, nothing really that interesting. Something just came across my Facebook feed that I feel like I need to respond to, and I can’t fall asleep, so I’m going to write this up instead and explain something interesting/bizarre that came across my Facebook feed just now.
With the power of the screenshot, I can show you exactly what this video looks like in my window, cropped for your pleasure.
So this video comes across my feed and it starts playing automatically. Typical kind of thing for me to see. It’s no secret from Facebook that I’m interested in gaming. My reaction is: “Oh? Say, that’s something I don’t know. Why DO video games release on Tuesdays?”
I’m hooked, so I stop my scroll. I stay to watch. But mind you, as I’m watching, I’m not ever 100% committed. At any point I might continue scrolling if the video gets boring. So I continue to watch without clicking on the video to turn on the sound. Familiar?
It starts with a clip from a Gameboy commercial and very quickly turns into a short stylized video explaining why video games are usually released on Tuesday. It’s in a list format. 1. Blah blah blah. 2. Blah Blah Blah. 3. Blah Blah Blah. Different reasons. Very digestible. And every line of text is accompanied with an appropriate moving image behind the text. There’s some Pong, Sonic, GTA. Random factory and “high-tech-gadget” shots. A visual for everything. Nice and clean, no frills attached.
But here’s the kicker. Near the end, they show this statistic relating to the sale of physical copies of video games:
And then follow it with this call for a response.
I’m sure anyone who has been using Facebook in the past year has come across this way of using the newer Facebook-exclusive emoticons to vote on something. Linguistically, it’s really neat. Facebook probably only intended the emoticons to be used as varied reactions, but instead this video and countless others are re-contextualizing the emoticons as meaning something entirely different. It’s like giving the user an instant button for each option to choose, and it can be repurposed for any kind of voting on any subject. Cool way to interact with the video, right?
But you see what the problem with this is? If you don’t, look again at what I saw initially when I first scrolled to the video.
And zoom in.
See it now? Without context, I have no way of knowing that this voting system even exists. Therefore, rather I’m conscious of it or not, what I’m actually being told when I first see the video is that these emoticons are genuine reactions to the video.
Now I don’t know about you, but find this both fascinating and infuriating. Fascinated because of the cleverness of it, but infuriated because of how manipulative this is. The video is manipulating its viewers to give the video the exact emoticons that it theoretically needs to look the best it can. I mean, look at the emoticons you have to choose from:
Of these six emoticons, is there a better combination of three emoticons (the default number for all Facebook content now) that would be more appropriate for this video? Laughing would be a bit weird, the video isn’t humorous, and they certainly don’t want tears or angry face. And liking is still the default sign of approval that goes with just about anything. So just like that, with this simple voting reaction system, the video guarantees the best case three emoticon pairing on your Facebook feed when you scroll to it: Heart-Like-Wow.
I investigated a bit more to see what else there was to find. Remember how I mentioned that I watched the video initially without sound? I went and played the video again, interested in what I had missed in the audio, this time turning on the sound in the Facebook video player.
But there was no sound. The entire video is silent.
I expanded the 265 comments. The top 12 comments were a direct answer to the prompted question of digital vs. physical videogame copies. (I’ll hold off on a screenshot of that since it has a lot of names of people I don’t know).
These tiny little details drives the point I guess I’m making here. It’s not news to anyone that these videos are adapting to how Facebook works. We’ve been seeing this in action for years now. We know viewers scrolling though Facebook don’t always turn on the sound, so videos design around that. They put in text that can be read and have the sound be filler or non-existent. It’s also not news to anyone that Facebook is manipulative, getting all the data it can muster from you to create the perfect recipe that is your newsfeed. But what surprised me about this video is the objective evidence that the videos themselves are manipulating the Facebook system in the most optimal way to get the exact emoticon reaction they want, the exact kind of conversations they want, and by extension, the most views possible.
Now this doesn’t matter for a silly video about video games, and it doesn’t matter in the short term for us viewers. We can just keep on scrolling and move on to the next thing in our feed, hoping it isn’t more junk. But rather or not we decide to stick around long enough for a view to register in the system DOES matter for Machinima, the company who posted this video. As far as I can tell from a quick google search and seeing the other content they post on their Facebook page, this company seems to thrive almost exclusively off of taking other people’s content, “re-contextualizing” it, and making it their own using social media and the internet to distribute that repurposed content, usually crediting the original source in small itty-bitty white text somewhere.
My argument stops here. I’m out of intelligent points to make. I’m not an Internet marketing expert and have nothing insightful to say about the economics or ethics of all of this or any of it’s grand implications. I’m sure you can find many opinions out there that are much more elegant than I could ever give. But as an artist who constantly thinks about how media affects our lives and what media I should be making for others, this type of thing really pushes my buttons. It would be one thing if I actively stayed away from this kind of trash, but the reality of it is…I don’t. Give me anything that’s from a show I like or with a cute dog or cat and I’ll be “awing” away at the cute little puppy oh my goodness he’s so cute look at the puppy look at it’s cute little ears he’s so cute oh he’s such a good boy yes he is…and in that moment of cuteness, I don’t care if what I’m seeing is manipulative or stolen content. I might care once I come to my senses and the video ends, but by that point the damage has been done. I’ve watched it. It’s over. And the cycle repeats.
But at least I can write a blog post about it, right? And post it on Facebook for you to see?
The irony of social media is something future artists will have a field day satirizing, I’m sure.