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What’s the folk theory: Reasoning about cyber-social systems


The present paper explores people’s folk theories of cyber-social systems by identifying the metaphors people hold and then analyzing them semantically for underlying attitudes and beliefs. In Study 1 (N = 3375) we use a novel method for eliciting metaphors for how people understand the Facebook News Feed and Twitter. In Study 2 (N = 1547) we used factor analysis to aggregate these metaphors into underlying folk theories for both Facebook and Twitter. In Study 3 (N = 1597) we replicate the factor analysis from Study 2 and examine the semantic dimensions for each of the folk theories across these two cyber-social systems, finding that there are four primary folk theories that people hold for the News Feed and Twitter: the rational assistant, the unwanted observer, the transparent platform and the corporate black box. The implications of identifying and understanding these folk theories for these cyber-social systems are discussed. 

M. French
J.T. Hancock
Presentation at the 67th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association, San Diego
Publication Date
March 28, 2017