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01 juillet 2017
Affective web

Do my tweets, posts and logs reflect my emotions? Can Facebook manipulate my moods? Is my webcam really capable of reading my emotions on my face? Why does this robot smile at me? These are the questions Julien Pierre, professor at Audencia, and Camille Alloing, professor in Information Sciences at Poitiers University try to answer.

In recent years, technology has made a step towards more emotions. We can now capture, enrich and simulate emotions. Companies are building value propositions around that promise of a better experience. More precisely, it is a matter of providing new ways to affect each other: for example, Facebook Reactions is one among many features within a larger affective strategy. And we notice a growing number of companies involved in such strategies. Faced with this growth, there are important issues related to the digital and commercial exploitation of our emotions.

The authors - Julien Pierre and Camille Alloing - decided to analyze affective strategies, and focused on the field of website and mobile applications. They have observed online uses on social networks; they have consulted technical documentation provided by the platforms (Facebook, Twitter); they have analysed their financial statements, their patents and their innovation policy; they have tested these technologies; and finally read discourses of founders, engineers, designers and product managers.

Three important results are drawn from this survey.

- At the epistemological level, the two authors consider that emotional technologies may be mature and powerful but they are not relevant, especially in relation to the promise made. These are emotional reactions, five in number, that are measured, far from covering the whole affective spectrum. Despite their scientific nature, the escort speeches are more based on beliefs. This is therefore the case for the whole business model.

- At the critical level, they have found a new regime of domination. This digital economy of emotions is based on massive industrialization, where every click is recorded in a database, allowing platforms to establish profiles – partly irrelevant – on which service proposals or objectives – partly inaccurate – will be based. The global system considers the intimate as an optimizing lever in the neoliberal economy. It helps to engage workers and consumers in the chain value, without awareness, because it is at this level that emotions are captured. The emotions are considered as a resource and a competence whose management is unequally distributed: this produces new forms of precariousness.

- At the methodological level, the two authors have established an analytical framework enabling them to approach more finely affective strategies. They have identified five layers within which these strategies circulate:

1. a semiotic layer between users, and between users and brands (posts, tweets, hashtags, pictures, emojis);

2. a digital layer between forms, sensors, databases (with ontologies and computation);

3. an economic layer where advertising revenues are optimized by emotion analysis and are used to finance the research, recruitment and complementary assets acquisition, whose purpose is to optimize affective features;

4. a discursive layer that uses the same psychological theories (only five universal emotions), makes the same promises (live intense experiences) and reproduces the same injunctions (being transparent about one’s own emotions);

5. and a layer of convergence where affective strategies on the web echo with apparatus deployed in other social spaces (retail, business management, self-knowledge and social control).

Based on this research, a first book is forthcoming: Le web affectif, INA editions. The authors also coordinated a journal issue (RFSIC, n ° 11) and have communicated in several conferences (GRESEC'15, EHESS'16, H2PTM'17). With the support of the Audencia foundation, they are currently investigating the emotional and affective work of community managers. They will begin work on the enchantment and nudge in the user path, within the leisure industry. There is also an ongoing reflection in the Future Laboratory.

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