The Online Life of Jack Winslow

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The bot we created on Facebook is called Jack Winslow (36) a true American man who just moved to Amsterdam eight months ago. As a manager of an American restaurant, he also is an avid Trump supporter based on his economic values, hence he joined Facebook groups such as ‘Donald Trump supporters’ (‘DTS’) and met friends who share the same interests with him. Besides following groups related to Trump and Tesla Motors, Jack also liked pages related to badminton and The Doors and Deep Purple. Personally, Jake is a divorced bachelor who, unlike his distant and troubled relationship with his father, tries to properly invest time in and raise his two children according to the values he deems most important for today’s society.

 

When we created Jack Winslow we kept in mind the traits we wanted to emphasis. After a few active hours online “Jack” joined the DTS group, he got several friend requests very quickly (4 hours in). We noticed that all the people who friended Jack were from this group and were very eager. Moreover, the first added friends caused a snowball effect of other mutual friends who want to add Jack showing a certain perpetuated filter bubble in which Jake was stuck in. Compared with my Facebook account where I only interact with close friends or talk to people when it is absolutely necessary, it is noticeable that people like Jack do not have a problem with talking to strangers who share the same (political) interests. Also, we expected that people who joined the group would be redneck, white, middle-aged American men. Surprisingly, we noticed that people who friended Jack were half male and half female, and the majority were rather colored and from outside of United States, but from countries that had positive connections to trump administration.

 

The freedom with which we created a seemingly stereotypical rendition of a radical, white American male seemed to introduce an interesting opportunity to experience online life from his perspective, however, in turn also introduced ideological and ethical issues that had to be overcome or that hindered us to continue an even deeper look into our online persona. Ethically, the problems of operating a fake person onan online platform, where a certain form of societal decency has translated into the virtual community, had presented a more difficult challenge than expected. Knowing that you are deceiving (expectedly) real people who really are expecting to become friends with Jake seemed to persist. For example, personal one-on-one communication brought on a sense of discomfort and insecurity even behind the anonymity of the web. Furthermore, ideologically the issues remains in the fact that the objective task, to create a persona the opposite of yourself, had caused a certain unease in the connections made online, whether through friend requests, ‘friends’ personally contacting our persona or the radically political posts that dominated the timeline of Jake Winslow.

 

By working with fbtrex, we could distinguish if news outlets shown on Jack’s account were original or shared by others and their origins. The most original news-outlet on the timeline was the Remnant newspaper, which is a traditional catholic extreme right paper wholly supporting Trump and his policies. This type of news origin is very expected for our persona and further perpetuated the filter bubble in which we placed ourselves.

 

We believe that Jake remaining an active persona on facebook is a considerable accomplishment even with the issues we encountered. However, the short time with Jake did not allow us to thoroughly play out  his developed online character. With more time, we would have liked to improve failures that became evident throughout this experiment. For example, a big question which we set ourselves very early in the process had been whether the same people would have send friend requests to Jake Winslow if he had not joined the DTS group. Such a radically ongoing topic has immediately placed our bot into a bubble, which was only perpetuated further by the posts and people that appeared thereof. We hypothesis that perhaps, even if we had decided to proceed with Jake being an avid Trump supporter, that we might have held back from specifically joining any groups and first elaborated his personal information to see what other posts, videos, people would appear on the bots page. In terms of the persona we created, the content we expected and saw coincided, our feelings towards the content however were unexpected. We believe we limited the data we could have received from our persona by giving him a very active political view.

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