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Social media is a dystopian nightmare

On this week’s episode “How Fake”, guests Gabrielle Bluestone (executive producer of Fyre and author of Hype), Sophie Ross (pop culture critic and writer), and Wylie Heiner (part of the Fake famous social experiment) join us to discuss influencer culture, being culturally blind in social media, and the manipulation that goes behind the normalization of toxic behaviors (I.e., Rape or diet culture). Two eye-opening productions to provide an important context to today’s topic are this week’s recummendations: Netflix’s documentary “Social Dilemma” and HBO’s “Fake Famous”.

Remember that Black Mirror episode where social media served as currency? Nosedive (S3, E1). This episode happens in a world where people can rate each other after every interaction. This score can impact their socioeconomic status (and therefore, every aspect of their lives). She goes through a callous time as her score drops drastically and her sanity starts to crumble. This episode triggered the fuck out of me back in 2016. On those days, I could lose my phone for a week, leave it at home or forget to charge it. My mental health and emotional stability didn’t depend on my notifications. My daily screen time was averaging at 2 or 3 hours tops. Jump to 2021 in this post-pandemic world that no one could have predicted; today, Instagram’s algorithm has me hooked for 5-6 hours a day on Instagram alone. As I watched this week’s recummendations, I realized there aren’t many differences between our reality and that dystopian nightmare produced by Netflix.

On the one hand, we have the monster’s tech side presented in “Social Dilemma”. This is a documentary where Silicon Valley deserters raise awareness of the ethical issues regarding how social media was initially designed. They explain how these apps’ monetization is based on predicting our choices and manipulating our decisions. Also, how ill-prepared and uneducated the general public is about this problem’s many factors. On the other hand, Fake famous focuses solely on Instagram. A social experiment where they chose three folks and made them fake famous (with fake followers, likes, comments, and even photoshoots on simulated private jets). The three subjects have very different experiences. We learn how big an industry the world of buying and selling fake people sharing fake information online actually is and its role in mass manipulation.

All of this isn’t necessarily news; I mean, we have known that the media manipulates us since its existence. However, these documentaries gather sufficient information to show us an alarming big picture of the power and influence social media has on the real world. These documentaries illustrate how some white male engineers wrote the (biased) code that has given dysmorphic tendencies to a whole generation, influenced elections, created entire social movements and even revolutions. Crazy, huh?

But, let’s talk about those who participate in these platform’s culture.

Social media platforms with algorithms like Instagram and Tik Tok demand constant content to give us views. At the same time, users must be mindful of their words and their privilege to stay clear of cancel culture. This can be a challenging mission when we’re sharing so much content while not being aware of just how broad the scope of our privilege can be. Cancel culture must be taken as a social metric to guideline adequate and inadequate behavior, or as Sophie Ross says, “cancel culture isn’t about bringing people down, it’s about questioning things and having important conversations”. We mustn’t fear cancellation as long as we are willing to recognize the impact our words can have. We must think of how the usage of our platforms contributes to our society. Healthy examples of using social media include but aren’t limited to: being accountable for our actions, willing to learn as we get new information, avoiding the propagation of fake news, and empowering marginalized groups.

Of course, this is extremely hard or even impossible if you’re an asshole. Remy talked about a particular influencer’s blueprint for not acknowledging their mistakes and coming off scot-free. She says, “you go offline for a while, and then you post a no make up, “fully authentic” (staged, obviously) video or post, preferably crying - or on the verge of doing so -, with the corresponding trigger warning, talking about how hard the haters have been, how much you and your loved ones have struggled, and how much your mental health has been compromised, you justify your actions and play the victim to avoid any and all real accountability, you don’t apologize, and you don’t change your toxic behavior”. Then, Gaby added: “New research provides evidence that narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellism; maladaptive traits known as the dark triad are associated with overt displays of virtue and victimhood to deceptively extract resources from others.”. This might remind you of a specific comic’s 9-minute apology in which he acknowledged nothing. Later on, we’ll talk about him when we discuss the portrayal of men’s toxic behavior in the mainstream media.

As social media users, and active participants in this culture, we have a responsibility to recognize this script so we can differentiate between a genuine apology, where accountability is being held, meaningful changes are made and where social growth emerges, and complete bullshit made by a PR team just to save a public figure from cancel culture.

What do you think have been some of the negative consequences social media has had in your life? We'll discuss this further on Serotonin-based movement and Celebrating self-hatred.

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