The Huffington Post has gone Vegas.
It has instituted a clever way to have commenters engage in what can only be seen as a form of slot machine gambling. I noticed this after learning HP had started some kind of “badges” system. I visited the site and saw a curious form of differentiation occurring amongst the commenters. Now there were symbols next to the individual members which served as an additional set of descriptors. It gave the promise of a member becoming something of a Huffington Eagle Scout skilled in all sorts of communications Huffington. As far as I could tell, if you tweeted Huffington, Face Booked Huffington, networked Huffington by smoke signal and semaphore, you could obtain a badge of some sort. As Questinia, I saw I had a badge. A level 1 badge of some sort. It meant something. Although I found out what it meant in the badge identifying page, I forgot what it means.
BUT! As I was observing the merry calvacade of HP all-stars, trolls, data plodders, the marginalized and the up and coming, I saw my badge had been taken away! What had I done? I reviewed my comments as tried and true Questinia and saw nothing that merited the demerit of badge removal. I promptly inquired HP as to why my badge had been taken away with a modicum of feeling pathetic. But, as a “good girl” with my reinforcements of yore including a brief stint in Catholic school, I responded to this virtual punishment with pique; without explanation, I was duly given back my badge. It was odd, but I realized they had gotten me to modify my behavior (caring to ask what happened) by tapping into my school-girl’s deeper parochial brain. Now, I was intrigued.
A parallel phenomenon appeared to be taking hold at HP: That of whirlwind fanning. Members were now fanning one another in declaratives “I Fan You!”. “Faved and Fanned!”, etc… giving the site an air of part boy’s High School locker room high fiving after a big team win and a ceremony of title bequeathing. It seemed partially gratuitous, as genuine appreciation, as a new form of LMAO, at times as a form of barter, as a way to give a message, as a way to get back at someone. Even as sex. I saw one fanner write “I am fanning you SO HARD right now!!”. My only hope was that the person getting fanned wasn’t getting fanned in the fanny.
I thought HP was engaging in some sort of blog site social experiment while possibly driving up it’s membership and number of comments made. Some moderator in the backroom must be earning a PhD. So I thought of conducting a simple experiment of my own. I began to play with socks to see how people would respond to various personae. What came out of it was somewhat interesting. All the socks attracted different people. Although I tried to keep the tone of my posts similar, it was clear that different personae attracted different people and they were duly fanned and faved. Then, for some reason, I found myself wanting more fans. I wanted to hit a payload of fan accolades. I wanted to see if I could increase my odds of getting repeatedly fanned, good and proper. I wanted an all out gang-fan. I wondered why I was feeling this way. What became clear to me was the site is now set up as a smoky Vegas slot hall with intermittent reinforcement keeping posters more or less compulsively commenting. Now, HP was always that way to an extent, but one couldn’t overlook the muted mid-brow frenzy of fanning, and faving and flagging. All in the presence of croupier moderators. But, in the olden days a fan was hard earned and was more or less disconnected from the comment timewise.
You remember intermittent reinforcement. It’s what gets people searching for that high, it’s what keeps gamblers hoping for that big win, it’s what certain unscrupulous men use on women as “fractionation”: That deadly and effective psycho-strategy of paying incredibly focused attention to the objects of their desire then suddenly and without warning withdrawing. It’s the push-pull. It gets women into bed in a heartbeat. It’s all based on that form of learned responses called operant conditioning. An operant is a modifying condition which changes a behavior. With positive reinforcement, the desired behavior is always matched with a reward, say a rat always gets the pellet. It is an easy behavior to extinguish since the rat begins to always expect the reward and therefore becomes a bit blasé to begin with. When the reward ceases to be forthcoming the rat goes “meh”. The negative reinforcement schedule is essentially one where the desired behavior is reinforced and learned by averting a punishment, say an electric shock to a rat’s front privates. These types of paradigms are continuous. That is to say, a behavior is always met with a reward, either a positive one or a negative/averting unpleasantness one. Each of these forms of learning are fairly easy to extinguish. Simply uncouple the behavior and the reward and the behavior decays over time.
However, with intermittent reinforcement, there is discontinuous rewarding. It is intermittent. It can occur after every fifth attempt at obtaining a reward, or tenth , under certain light conditions, after different amounts of lapsed time. The most important feature of intermittent reinforcement is that it is very difficult to extinguish. It provides the foundation for obsession and compulsive behaviors. Under continuous reinforced learning, the behavior to be extinguished is never given the reward. Therefore it is easy to stop. However in intermittent reinforcement, the subject has become used to going for periods of time without a reward so they will continue to engage in it.
My goal was to make the intermittent reinforcement a more positive continuous one by making me more irresistibly fannable. One in which I would nearly always get a fan. For that, I had to strategize what name, avatar and type of comment I should use. I chose a furry, cute, dysmorphically dwarfed, creamy orange kitten with parted red Clara Bow, blowing-kisses-lips on a baby blue blanket. It’s name was to be a shamelessly manipulative play on pity-fuck. I named it Pity-Fan Me. As to type of comment, I chose humorous, punny or sarcastic. Sometimes abstruse and esoterically knowing. Occasionally precious. The name and moniker alone gave me a shower of fans. Nearly everything I wrote was faved. Mostly, people commented on how cute my avi was. I increased my odds by leaving overly serious main threads and by repairing to posts like “Tokio Hotel Band member OD’s on Viagra”. It worked.
I decided then to have a goal which would make the entire fanning system appear absurd all the while earning me more and more fans. I declared to the bloggers that I wanted to accumulate more fans than Hume Skeptic. That I wanted to initiate a “Fan Drive”. At least I wanted to outdo Rich Misty or Thunderclap Newman. I even went up to Hume and taunted him by saying I was on his heels ( I SHOULD have said fanny!) and I had only 2, 243 more fans to go. So…he fanned me. To make things fair, I fanned him back. I got a few fans from people who evidently had some hidden animosity toward Mr. Skeptic. Even though I obtained many fans that way, my trifecta winning moment came when I composed a poem about oil fuck-up Oynes called “Oynty Doynty”. I got about five fans in a single swoop. I was batting .500. I had roughly 50 fans at 100 comments, but then lost a few for some reason when I got cocky and wrote “Hello my name is Pity-Fan Me and I am a fanaholic”. Maybe I was hitting too close to home. In keeping with my shamelessness, I then shored my fan number with a reinforcement of my old socks just to pad the numbers. So what? I cheated. I don’t run any NIH studies so don’t worry. The point is, I found myself commenting more and more. When the magic seemed to be wearing thin, I commented more foolishly and desperately. Saying things that Pity-fan wouldn’t write. After eight un-fanned comments, I noticed I was on a losing streak. Since I am by nature not an addictive person I quit while I was ahead and didn’t waste any more of my time.
And because I am also very familiar with the power of intermittent fanning, I got bored.