Why Buttons Matter: Repurposing Facebook’s Reactions for Analysis of the Social Visual
Studying images on social media introduces several challenges that relate to the size of data sets and the different meaning-making grammars of social visuality; or, as aptly pointed out by others in the field, it means “studying the qualitative on a quantitative scale.” Although cultural analytics provides an automated process through which patterns can be detected in many images, this methodology doesn’t account for other modalities of the image than the image itself. However, images circulating social media can (and should) be analyzed on the level of their audience. Bridging the study of platform affordances and affect theory, this article presents a novel methodology that repurposes Facebook reactions to infer collective attitudes and performative emotional expressions vis-à-vis images shared on the large Syrian Revolution Network public page (+2M). We found visual patterns that co-occur with certain collective combinations of buttons, displaying how sociotechnical features shape the discursive frameworks of online publics.