Hobby Lobby, Facebook, and SPORTS

This week’s super important great big news:

The Supreme Court ruled that Hobby Lobby and other private, closely-held companies can use religious belief as a reason to deny coverage of certain contraceptives for employees.

Here is the decision described in plain english by SCOTUSBlog: “The families that own Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties are deeply religious and do not want to make four of those twenty kinds of birth control – IUDs and the “morning after” pill — available to their female employees because they believe that it would make them complicit in abortion.  Today the Court agreed that they don’t have to.”

Here are some quotes from Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent, which starts on page 60 of the PDF of the Supreme Court decision linked above.

For a personal reaction, The Hairpin has republished a great personal essay/history about the importance of bodily autonomy for women.

The New Yorker calls on history to identify the Hobby Lobby case (and the Harris case, about required union contributions) as the latest representation of a trend the Supreme Court has been following for years:
“in confronting a politically charged issue, the court first decides a case in a “narrow” way, but then uses that decision as a precedent to move in a more dramatic, conservative direction in a subsequent case.”

An additional New Yorker article does a great job of addressing these potential threats in further depth:
“Women’s health is treated as something troublesome—less like other kinds of health care, which a company should be asked to pay for, than as a burden for those who have to contemplate it. That is bad enough. But the Hobby Lobby decision is even worse.”

Hobby Lobby may not want to pay for women to use certain kinds of contraception, but the 401K that it offers to its employees includes investments in the companies that produce those contraceptive methods.

And finally, MSNBC debunks five myths that have been circulating about the ruling.

One of the kinds of birth control that Hobby Lobby won’t have to provide insurance coverage for anymore is the IUD, which is actually fairly unpopular. Part of the issue is that after an issue-prone IUD in the 70s, fear hasn’t been corrected to match reality. As the spokesperson for a modern IUD puts it, “The women who are happy with their IUDs and have no problems are not the ones who get in the press.”

The Twittersphere (or at least my Twittersphere) completely blew up this past weekend about a Facebook research study that was published one month ago in PNAS.

The Atlantic has a comprehensive explainer, but the gist is that for one week in 2012, Facebook algorithmically manipulated the News Feeds of some 650K people to display either largely positive or largely negative content. This was an effort to determine how emotional content can spread among networks (emotional contagion), and presumably also to understand how those emotions related to engagement with Facebook as a service.

The most interesting aspect of the findings was that when the News Feed didn’t contain much emotional content at all, people engaged less with Facebook. In short,  “Make people’s feeds blander and they stop typing things into Facebook.”

The Awl goes further: “Facebook doesn’t intentionally reward any particular editorial style; it mostly seems to promote content that causes people to use Facebook more vigorously.”

As Laurie Penny points out in the New Statesman,

“The point, and indeed the fact that has sent ripples of outrage around the web, is that Facebook can do this. Facebook can manipulate the emotions of hundreds of thousands of people just to see what happens.” Not only that, but “The ethics of altering people’s experience of the world on this scale, without their consent, for the purposes of research, do not appear to trouble the Facebook research team.”

Evan Selinger and Woodrow Hartzig discuss the fact that this sort of feed manipulation is endemic across all social media, and ask something from us as users:

“Social media regularly manipulates how user posts appear; the abuse of socially shared information has become a collective problem that requires a collective response.”

They propose (along with Ari Melber)  a ““People’s Terms of Service Agreement—a common reference point and stamp of approval, like a Fair Trade label for the web, to govern the next photo-sharing app or responsible social network.” Together, we could pressure existing Internet companies to adopt our terms of service, to show us they take some of our basic rights into consideration in the way they operate and behave.”

However, danah boyd (a social media and technology researcher) discusses the fact that this is not an issue with Facebook, not an issue with social media, but in fact an issue with the entire web:

“Most sites, from major news media to social media, have some algorithm that shows you the content that people click on the most. This is what drives media entities to produce listicals, flashy headlines, and car crash news stories. What do you think garners more traffic — a detailed analysis of what’s happening in Syria or 29 pictures of the cutest members of the animal kingdom?”

Due to that broad scope of the nature of this issue, the conversation may not be about a terms of service with technology companies, or vague outrage directed toward services that carry a social punishment to quit, but instead, it is a conversation about ethics.

“Ethics aren’t a checklist. Nor are they a universal. Navigating ethics involves a process of working through the benefits and costs of a research act and making a conscientious decision about how to move forward. Reasonable people differ on what they think is ethical. And disciplines have different standards for how to navigate ethics. But we’ve trained an entire generation of scholars that ethics equals “that which gets past the IRB” which is a travesty. We need researchers to systematically think about how their practices alter the world in ways that benefit and harm people. We need ethics to not just be tacked on, but to be an integral part of how everyone thinks about what they study, build, and do.”

I would quote her entire essay if I could, so I highly recommend that you read this (if you read no other essay that I’ve linked about the Facebook research situation).

The other Great Big News of this week was the World Cup. Is the World Cup.

The U.S. got eliminated, so the dominance in the media has died down a bit (if it ever dominated beyond social media at all). However, Longreads had the presence of mind to link to this great New Yorker profile of the U.S. team going into the 2010 World Cup. The star goalie of this year’s team was also the star goalie of the 2010 team, and a short profile was included on him:

“Another singular thing about Howard: he has Tourette’s syndrome, a disorder of the nervous system that manifests itself in facial jerks, spasms, and involuntary tics. The intense focus he is required to summon in games moderates his symptoms, and often cancels them altogether. (When the ball is safely away from the goal, his tics will sometimes emerge.) But in conversation he repeatedly clears his throat, blinks, and stammers; his neck tightens and his cheeks twitch. He refuses to take medication for fear that it will make him “zombielike” and impair his motor skills. “I’m very adrenaline-filled, and I wouldn’t want to suppress that,” he told me. “I like the way I am. If I woke up tomorrow without Tourette’s, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself.””

Another prominent athlete with a “disorder” that is usually highly stigmatized is theChicago Bears football player Brandon Marshall, who was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. He has made it a personal mission to bring more awareness to mental health, and to reduce the stigmas surrounding mental illness. Because of his work, “it’s no surprise that he has become someone whom people around the league turn to when mental illness affects them. A prominent player pulled him away from the cameras at a game to tell him that he too suffered from mental illness; another later told Marshall that he was bipolar; coaches have approached him before games to say their wives or loved ones had suffered. “We focus so much on all of the bad behaviors, but we ignore the guys who are suffering in silence,” he says. “I think there are more guys suffering in silence in the NFL than there are people you can see.””

For music this week, the band Berlin Bar Hounds wants to serenade you in their song Le Rambles with deep gravelly sounds eerily reminiscent of the National.