The fault in our stars 

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On: October 4, 2021
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How dropping the combination of astrology, AI, and trolling can help you save your self-esteem

Astrology is a long existing pseudoscience, yet over the past few years it has definitely made a significant comeback in popular culture. It’s safe to say that most Millennials and Generation Z have heard of horoscopes, and have throughout their lives heard and/or said “Oh my god! You’re such a (insert astrological sign)”. Horoscopes being a trending theme, new medias jumped at the opportunity of turning it into profitable businesses, and as such, many new applications have arisen with this at the roots of it. One of the better-known ones is Co-Star, an astrological social networking service launched in 2017. According to the company, they provide “hyper-personalized” astrology that was previously only available to people with personal astrologers (Co-Star), based on the date, time and place the user was born. There are various factors that make such applications, but especially Co-Star, seem attractive to users, this however always also comes at a price. Co-Star claims that it is “powered by AI that merges NASA data with the insight of human astrologers” (Co-Star) in order to provide its users with the most accurate daily readings, the possibility to make comparisons with your friends’, as well as with a daily message that’s supposed to reflect the tone of the day. This can within itself already be problematic, especially that Co-Star has been previously accused of (and admitted to) trolling its users (Ellis 2021).

The signs and their (common) troll

It’s easy to think that if it’s known that Co-Star trolls its users with negative quotes, people should just not use it. That’s indeed true, yet the appeal for the app has been created so it filled a demand for the Millennial/Gen Z population, they didn’t even know they needed. Astrology/horoscopes are a trending theme, and for someone looking to get more into it, Co-Star is an attractive solution as it seems to offer a simple and clear compilation of all you need to know of the things that “totally make you a Gemini”. As Ramsay explains, there’s an overload of information on the web, there always has been, and the promise of a coherent, straightforward presentation can aid users to stick with the first result instead of endlessly digging further (Ramsay 2010). 

Although Ramsay focused his claims on search engines, an abstract line can be drawn just as similarly to almost any form of the World Wide Web. Although Co-Star may not present us with our most reliable or even accurate chart readings, we may not put our trust in the app, it’s still easier to stick with those results rather than getting sucked into an endless spiral “it’s not so much trust in the search engine (or the book, or the professor) as it is willingness to suspend disbelief about the yellow wood after having taken after having taken a particular road.” (Ramsay 2010).

Similarly, to draw on an abstract comparison between the thoughts of Ramsay and its relatability to the way our stars are presented through Co-Star, to a certain extent, we can speak of a participatory creation of knowledge from the app. Even though the Co-Star app wouldn’t naturally fit the classical definition of participatory creation of knowledge within the frame of social medias, it can still be seen as it. The interface of the app was designed so to give you your chart readings and satisfy your horoscope needs, but also be comparable to traditional networking social medias where you can ‘add friends’ and compare your charts with their (Co-Star). Additionally, hidden at the bottom of it, there’s also a forum-like talk box, where users can discuss topics about the signs. This of course, is not a science-based milieu for a discourse, yet it is considered a more “useful and practical” (Ramsay 2010) source of information as it can be seen as “a writerly, anarchic text” (Ramsay 2010). 

Is the fault in your stars, or in your algorithm?

As mentioned above on the participatory creation of knowledge, it is not only the opinion-forum that can be seen as one, but also your daily chart readings. Although Co-Star says your daily quotes are based on the combination of AI, NASA data and its interpretation by their ‘expert human astrologers’, they have admitted that it is indeed their full team of 14 members (Co-Star) who come up with what messages to send out to their users. These daily quotes are hence not quite some expertise, but more of an interpretation of whatever said experts think of the way your stars are aligned. Additionally, it is mostly based on the algorithm of the app. The app’s algorithms track when you’re supposed to be doing ‘good’ based on your charts and readings and will use that opportunity to send ‘bad messages’ in order to prepare you for worse times, or so they claim. This however, can very negatively influence users’ moods and overall well-being if taken too seriously, as it is a constant daily flow of ‘negative’, ‘rude’ messages. These messages are not classic misinformation, but are creating wrong trust connections and abstractly creating misinformation (Van Dijck, Alinejad, 2020). Though it is not false information being spread, it is also not the truth nor facts, though some users may take it as such. It is not entirely clear, nor stated exactly what NASA data is being used by the app to create their chart readings, and this could provoke some users to question the integrity/accuracy of mass institutions like NASA, diminishing the trust in such institutions (Van Dijck, Alinejad, 2020).

This also shows a lack of transparency from the app’s side, which doesn’t inspire trust “I have already pointed out how they hardly subscribe to basic values such as neutrality and transparency.” (Van Dijck, 2010).

Conclusion

At the end of the day, it is important to keep in mind that all of this remains a pseudoscience. As described by Van Dijck, the app draws on technological unconsciousness as “The ‘technological unconsciousness’ of most users exceeds their basic unawareness of the limited scope and manipulative ranking mechanisms governing their favourite search engine and their own search behaviour.” (Van Dijck, 2010). Though in this case again, it is not a search engine, but an application that has the ability to dictate people’s private lives based on the readings it provides them with. Psychologically speaking, it’s easier to believe what something tells you of how your day etc. will go if that seems to be (relatively) science based (Ramsay, 2010). Alas, no one should let their mood/well-being be affected by quotes regardless of what data/AI they seem to be using as at the end of the day, their sole purpose of operation is profit-making.

Bibliography

“Co – Star: Hyper-Personalized, Real-Time Horoscopes.” n.d. Accessed October 3, 2021. https://www.costarastrology.com/.

Ellis, Bambzi. 2021. “I Learned The Co Star App Trolls Their Users Two Days After I Downloaded The App.” 2021. https://medium.com/illumination/i-learned-the-co-star-app-trolls-their-users-two-days-after-i-downloaded-the-app-d2f8d836fb74.

Ramsay, Stephen. 2010. The Hermeneutics of Screwing Around; or What You Do with a Million Books. University of Michigan Press. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv65swr0.

Van Dijck, José. 2010. “Search Engines and the Production of Academic Knowledge.” International Journal of Cultural Studies 13 (November): 574–92. https://doi.org/10.1177/1367877910376582.

Van Dijck, José, and Donya Alinejad. 2020. “Social Media and Trust in Scientific Expertise: Debating the Covid-19 Pandemic in The Netherlands.” Social Media + Society 6 (4): 2056305120981057. https://doi.org/10.1177/2056305120981057.

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