Facebook, Relationship Status, and Emotional Labor

Warning: This blog post is going to get a little personal.

Today is my nine year wedding anniversary and I just happen to be spending it going through the process of a divorce.

The happy photographic reminders of a relationship that no longer exists haunted me on Facebook today in between meetings for work.  So I took a moment to get into my profile and take down my “married” status.

And imagine my surprise when Facebook’s algorithms offered me a little piece of sympathy.

From today, when you change your relationship status to 'single,' Facebook will ask if you want to 'take a break' from seeing pictures and posts of your ex.

If you do, then their name won't automatically appear when you're writing a message or tagging friends in posts and photos. You also have the option of hiding certain things you post from your ex and can also limit people's ability to see past posts where the two of you are together

Having to see your ex on Facebook may be one of the worst things about the site.

But the company is determined to fix that, after launching a new tool on its mobile app to help users take the pain out of a relationship breakup.

When you change your relationship status to ‘single,’ Facebook will ask if you want to ‘take a break’ from seeing pictures and posts of your ex.

‘This work is part of our ongoing effort to develop resources for people who may be going through difficult moments in their lives,’ Facebook product manager Kelly Winters wrote in a blog post.

‘We hope these tools will help people end relationships on Facebook with greater ease, comfort and sense of control.’

I suppose that, on some level, this shouldn’t be surprising.  After all, big data is now capable of predict when a woman gets pregnant(the better to send them coupons, of course).  But after participating in an amazing panel on Emotional Labor at this year’s WisCon, I got to thinking about how we value this kind of work differently across different platforms.
I don’t have many conclusions but I have lots of questions.  Like:
What does it mean to outsource and automate certain kinds of care?
In what manner are we willing to pay for this kind of labor from our technology?  Right now, for example, Facebook “charges” us for facilitating our relationships by collecting our data and selling it to advertisers.  But whenever rumors surface that Facebook might start directly charging users to use the platform, the public reacts with outrage.
Within the development community, who is creating algorithms of care?  It’s been a while since I read Kate Losse‘s The Boy Kings: A Journey into the Heart of the Social Network but it detailed the gendered division of labor between programmers and those who interact directly with users.  I am also thinking about how Reddit put a woman of color out in front of unpopular decisions and then fed her to wolves.
What kinds of emotional labor have you noticed coming from your technology?  Share your examples in the comments below!

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