Content media

“Feel-good” content isn’t as ethical as you think. Creators and consumers are guilty

JGoy-something Melburnian Harrison Pawluck could be doing worse things than building a TikTok following through “random acts of kindness.”

He’s not out on the streets pulling risky pranks or provoking angry confrontations. It does not promote fake cryptocurrency schemes, cancer cures, or conspiracy theories. Instead, he films the reactions of strangers when he does things like pay for their groceries or give them flowers.

However, the controversy sparked by his most successful video to date (viewed nearly 65 million times) highlights the ethical issue of “feel-good” content – ​​for both creators and consumers.

The 19-second video shows Pawluck asking an elderly woman in a food hall to hold a bouquet of flowers as he puts on a jacket. He then wishes her a nice day and leaves. “Hope this made her day better,” the caption read. This was not the case.

Since becoming aware of the viral video, Melbourne woman Maree said she felt protected and taken advantage of. Pawluk offered some sort of apology, but said he wouldn’t stop making such videos:

I know my true intentions and I know that if I can inspire even 1% of the people who watch my content to go out and do something good, I’ve done something that I think is good for the world.

This defense would work better if Pawluck didn’t monetize his videos. The fact that there is a market for such content, however, raises questions. How can content be truly altruistic with so many business factors at play?

What is eudemonic media?

From holding up life-affirming signs in malls to hugging strangers, giving the homeless huge wads of cash and rescuing stray animals, “acts random kindnesses” have proven to be a popular video genre on social media.

In media studies, we call these videos “eudaimonic media” – from the ancient Greek word “eudaimonia”. This is often translated as “happiness”, but the philosopher Aristotle used it to refer to the highest human good – to live a life of virtue.

Unlike hedonic media – content focused on personal gratification and pleasure – eudaimonic media is meant to make us reflect on the purpose, potential, virtue and meaning of life.

Well-being outweighs ill-being

Despite all the attention paid to social media’s ability to promote “engagement” through sensationalism, polarization and appealing to people’s worst emotions, the market for eudemonic content remains far larger.

A survey of more than 777 million Facebook posts in 2019, for example, found that “love” emojis accounted for around half of all video reactions in 2018 (compared to 4.5% of “angry” emojis). “).

The most viewed video on Facebook that year, with over 361 million views, was of Jay Shetty, a Hindu monk turned life coach/influencer, giving an inspirational talk to students (accompanied by piano music poignant).

All up Shetty reportedly earned US$1 million in Facebook ad revenue in 2018, which should certainly inspire Pawluck and co.

Show me the eudaimonia!

Studies indicate that eudemonic media can be a “moral motivator,” inspiring prosocial behavior.

But there is an obvious ethical problem when content creators have high hedonistic motivations – fame and fortune – for making “feel-good” videos. With this pressure, “acts of kindness” can become performative, even exploitative.

Part of any social media influencer’s strategy is some form of performance, of course. But with an “eudemonic” content creator, it is difficult to reconcile virtuous action and contrived scenarios where the people filmed are used as a means to an end.

We are all responsible

It would be easy to focus on Pawluck and his fellow content creators, but that’s part of social media’s biggest systemic problem: It’s often antisocial even when it seems, superficially, prosocial.

The bottom line with the whole social media business model is that appealing, amplifying, and manipulating emotions is a surefire way to increase engagement and monetize content.

This is where all of us as social media users have the power to contribute to the higher good. We need to be more choosy about what kind of content we encourage people like Pawluck to do through our clicks and comments.

Watching this video may have done us some good momentarily, but did the content creator really do any good? Are they candid about their financial motivations? Did they ask permission from their unwitting subjects?

As Maree noted after unwittingly becoming the star of the latest commercially driven social media trend:

I feel like clickbait.

Consider the impact of your next shot of a rescued dog welfare video or donating money or food to the less fortunate. Is this a eudemonic or lucrative moment?

Renee Barnes is a senior lecturer in journalism at the University of the Sunshine Coast

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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