Facebook Has It: The Irresistible Violence of Social Cognition in the Age of Social Networking

Facebook Has It: The Irresistible Violence of Social Cognition in the Age of Social Networking

Tommaso Bertolotti
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2931-8.ch016
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Over the past years, mass media increasingly identified many aspects of social networking with those of established social practices such as gossip. This produced two main outcomes: on the one hand, social networks users were described as gossipers mainly aiming at invading their friends’ and acquaintances’ privacy; on the other hand the potentially violent consequences of social networking were legitimated by referring to a series of recent studies stressing the importance of gossip for the social evolution of human beings. This paper explores the differences between the two kinds of gossip-related sociability, the traditional one and the technologically structured one (where the social framework coincides with the technological one, as in social networking websites). The aim of this reflection is to add to the critical knowledge available today about the effects that transparent technologies have on everyday life, especially as far as the social implications are concerned, in order to prevent (or contrast) those “ignorance bubbles” whose outcomes can be already dramatic.
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2. Gossip As Social Cognition

The revaluation of gossip, which started in the past century, is indebted towards two main disciplines: anthropology on the one hand, evolutionary studies on the other hand. Anthropologists focused on gossip as a means of social regulation (Gluckman, 1963; Yerkovich, 1977), but the mechanism often maintained a sense of otherness, both geographical and chronological: gossip could be indeed more than mere idle talk, but that was true as far as other people, at a different stage of development, were concerned. Conversely, evolutionary psychology and sociobiology immensely boosted gossip’s reputation (no pun intended) by showing its relevance as far as it concerns the dawn of language and sociality (Dunbar, 2004; Wilson, Wilczynski, Wells, & Weiser, 2002). Partially because of the hard-to-die naturalistic fallacy, which reverberates in the moral justification of whatever is hypothesized to have been part of our evolutionary heritage, these studies managed to obtain a massive dissemination in public opinion: the result was a widespread acceptance of the common utility of gossip as “social hygiene”, which came with a complete obliteration of its violent nature.

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