The Current Business Model
The Mental Illness Epidemic
Content Warning:This document contains topics related to mental illness — specifically self-harm, suicide, depression, body dysmorphia, eating disorders, and depersonalizations. If these topics are sources of trigger for you, please refrain from reading beyond this paragraph.
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The internet first emerged in the 1960’s and 70’s, several private and public organizations were working on developing ways that would allow computers to communicate with each other. This would be the first, documented instance of what is now known as ‘social media’. Social media is defined as the form of online communication that is used by people in order to share information, ideas, and content. In the 1980’s and 90’s, computers became more widespread and more accessible to the general population, allowing for the creation of social media platforms that adhere more to the individual, and less to the computer.
In May of 1997, Andrew Weinrich launched the first social media platform,Six Degrees,founded on the six degrees of separation theory, which claimed that everyone on Earth was connected through six social connections.Six Degreesallowed people to sign up with their own email addresses, and make profiles, allowing them in turn, to add friends, family and acquaintances to their social circles. At its peak,Six Degreeshad around 3.5 million users.Six Degreespioneered what is now known as the ‘social-circles network model’ — the ability for a platform to allow users to organize their personal networks, what is known as ‘lists’ on Facebook and Twitter. Essentially, the social-circles network model allowed users to create a hierarchy of their social connections, often allowing the classes of these hierarchies to overlap. This model allowed social media platforms to be able to systematically analyze social connections and gather data from them, essentially leading to success. So, when put into perspective, it is no surprise thatSix Degreescatalyzed the renaissance of social media platforms.
In 2002,Friendsterwould then be launched, serving as competition for what once stood as the only social media platform. Friendster essentially had every featureSix Degreeshad, but it also allowed users to share videos, photos as well as interact with other users through the form of comments and messages, so long as they were part of each other’s networks. In only a few months,Friendstermanaged to amass over 3 million users, with that number increasingly growing. The platform ended up reaching over 100 million users. That same year,LinkedInwas founded by Allen Blue, Eric Ly, Jean-Luc Valliant, Konstantin Guericke and Reid Hoffman. The site focused on professional networking more than personal network. It was an opportunity for business, companies, and schools to interact professionally. As of the present, over 575 million users are registered onLinkedIn.
One year after the launch of bothFriendsterandLinkedIn, MySpace,which would ultimately become one of the largest social media platforms worldwide, was launched.MySpaceinitially began as a file-storing site, but it rapidly transformed into a social network, allowing millions of users to connect from all over the world. It was essentially the most successful platform of its era. As a result of its success, it was sold at $580 million to News Corp, a media conglomerate run by Rupert Murdoch, and by 2006,MySpacesurpassedGoogleas the most visited website in the world.
However,MySpace’ssuccess was short-lived, as in 2004,Facebookwas launched by Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin, Andre McCollum, Dustin Moskovitz, and Chris Hughes. WhileMySpacewas very successful and continuously growing whenFacebookwas launched — generating $800 million in revenue,Facebookalso continued to expand and by 2008, it had replacedMySpaceas the most visited site on the internet. What once was started as a networking platform exclusive to Harvard students, later spreading to other Ivy League universities, became one of the most successful social media sites of all time, available to anyone over the age of 13 years old. Facebook continued to be successful, even today. It ranks only third on the Alexa traffic ranking, behind Google and YouTube. It was initially publicized in 2012, and valued at $104 billion. Today, it generates around $40 billion in revenue per year, and it has acquired other social networking sites such as Giphy, Instagram, and WhatsApp allowing for more extensive research.
YouTube was shortly launched after Facebook in 2005 by Chad Hurley, Jawed Karim, and Steve Chen. The beta version of the site first opened in May of 2005 and quickly attracted around 30,000 users per day. The site was officially launched in December of 2005, housing over 2 million video views per day. By January of the following year, that number had increased to 25 million. YouTube essentially allowed users to create videos and content from the comfort of their own homes.
Twitter was launched the following year in 2006 by Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone, Noah Glass and Evan Williams. What set Twitter apart from every other social media platform was its limitation of the characters of posts to only 140 characters — a rule it abided by until 2017, when it increased that limit to 280 characters. Twitter has around 368 million monthly active users as of 2022.
In 2010, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krueger launched Instagram, separating themselves from the ever growing sea of social media sites by creating the first smartphone-bound app — created solely for the purpose of sharing videos and photos in square form (this restriction would then be removed in 2015). Within two months of its launch, Instagram had over 1 million active users. As of 2022, Instagram has 1.21 billion active users. It was then bought by Facebook in 2012 for $1 billion in cash and stock. One year later, Snapchat (formerly known as Picaboo) was launched by Evan Spiegel, Bobby Murphy, and Reggie Brown. Users were able to send disappearing photos to each other, as well as communicate with one another. Snapchat was also the first platform to pioneer the ‘24-hour-story’ — a feature that allowed users to post photos and videos that would only be available for one day before disappearing. Snapchat was credited with the creation of what is now known as a ‘filter’, but in reality, filters were the creation of the Ukrainian startup; Looksery which was bought by Snapchat in 2015 for $150 million, allowing the app to introduce what it called ‘Lenses’. This newly introduced feature utilized technology in order to create an augmented reality that integrated 3D rendered elements into ‘Snaps’.
While all these social media platforms had distinct features that set them apart from one another, allowing them to individually flourish in the digital marketplace, what united them was the use of algorithms to personalize the platform to the individual user. The algorithm essentially determines which posts are relevant to promote to its users, in turn, dictating how quickly a post is noticed and the size of the audience that post will be promoted to, and these algorithms are individual to each platform. Facebook’s algorithm scores posts based on their relevancy, that relevancy is dictated based on predictions about a user’s potential interest in a post. Instagram’s algorithm runs on hashtag searches, but it also provides a personalized feed that prioritizes individual interest, number of followers, frequency of posts as well as the timing of these posts. Twitter originally ran a timeline, placing posts in chronological order. However, in 2016, Twitter switched its chronological timeline to an algorithm-based timeline that once again, promotes posts that it predicts users are interested in. The more a user’s Tweets are engaged with, the more visible their content will become as the algorithm boosts posts with significant amounts of likes, retweets and interactions.
It’s undeniable that social media has become an integral part of modern day society. It has become a part of everyday human interaction — it’s how people are able to connect with each other, and share ideas. Social media provided creators with platforms and opened opportunities to upcoming businesses to grow. And while social media has provided the general population with opportunities for connection and creativity that would have otherwise been unavailable, the downsides are equally undeniable. Social media has generated a digitized economy where the performer or the newly dubbed ‘content creator’ must market and brand themselves in order to continue growing and continue sustaining their brand on platforms founded on the concept of growth over all else. This in turn, leads to an influx of other problems — most of which come at the expense of the performer and the viewer’s mental wellbeing. In addition to that, social media has become a haven for manipulative mass advertisement that serves to do nothing more than to suck the money out of the consumers products by appealing to the human experience.
2. The Performer
Humanity has been performing since the beginning of time, way before the emergence of social media. The first performers were found in Ancient Greece — in fact, theatricality and performance was deeply ingrained into its culture, where the performer was the expression of festivals, politics, religious rituals, poetry, art and the list goes on. Ultimately, performance is how people were able to express what it meant to be human. And over time, performance developed, and the way people thought about it developed with it. Performance as spoken of today, is no longer an act specific to the artist or the actor, it is an act specific to humanity as a whole. It is the expression of what it means to be alive. Performing has been an integral part of humanity for as long as it has existed. It’s how people are able to fit in and survive. It’s evolutionary instinct. It’s what Darwin coined as the ‘survival of the fittest’ — the ability for organisms to adapt to different situations and environments in order to ensure survival. Humanity has always existed in groups, and as civilization advanced and social groups began to develop — as more cultures began interacting with one another, and as we developed the human ability of thought and of contemplation, all humanity was met with as a sea of individuality and uniqueness which caused these cultures and social groups to differ. And while human survival has generally been dependent on the existence of people in groups that exist in togetherness at a given moment of time, these differences brought up conflict. It was no longer a matter of how humanity can continue to survive in the wild, it was about how we could continue to survive with each other while both maintaining the community as well as the individual. This dilemma is what ultimately caused performance to become less about an art form that expresses humanity, and more as a survival tactic that protects it.
As humanity continued to develop its individuality, the need to survive in a social group existed regardless of the differences people had with each other. Ultimately, humanity has always been seeking attention, community, and validation. It’s our driving force, it’s what keeps us going. This need to survive in a group that approves of us and validates our experience is in no way a result of the media or of social media or of governmental conditioning — it’s a result of our evolutionary instinct to exist in groups in order to have the highest chances of survival. But in order to maintain that sense of community and that sense of togetherness, humanity has had to perform — to put on an act that allows it to survive and adapt to different social groups and social settings in a society that was increasingly becoming more advanced, and more complex.
Performance is ultimately the weapon we yield when we exist in social settings outside of our comfort zones. It’s what allows for adaptability. The better the performer, the better the chances of adaptability to different social settings, and in turn, the higher chance of survival. The act a student puts on in front of their teachers is different from the one put on in front of their friends. That’s adaptability to different social settings. That’s survival of the fittest. And the reason for this constant and endless performance, is to manufacture a sense of belonging to a community much larger than the individuality, because ultimately that belonging to a community is what allows for the sense of protection to arise. For the sense of security to arise. It all links back to the evolutionary instinct to survive. Social media did not manufacture that instinct, instead, it created a model centered around exploiting that instinct and manufacturing it en masse.
Social media created a business founded on people’s need to perform and their need to belong. It equated the numbers associated with a person — the amount of likes, followers, and comments, to their value. It manufactured the arms race of who can amass the most following in the shortest amount of time, regardless ofifthey should have that audience oriftheir work has the value that is worthy of that audience. Ultimately, what makes social media such a desirable marketplace for upstarting businesses and talents is it’s unregulated, it relatively allows the business and the creator to have almost complete control over the product or the content produced and how it’s marketed. It’s democratic. It’s free and independent. But that raises the question of how do we decide who gets to have an audience, or a platform and who doesn’t? What dictates whether or not someone should beallowedto have a platform? And ultimately, it’s the amount of money and watch-time that creator can generate. Social media started out as a haven for creativity, a place for creatives — filmmakers, comedians, artists, musicians, etcetera etcetera to create and connect with other creatives. It created a community for them, one they might not have found physically. It gave these creatives and these talents a chance to do what they do best — a chance to perform. They created for the sake of creation, they made art for the sake of art. It wasn’t capital, it wasn’t about the numbers or the monetary gain — there were barely any to be fair, it was about performers fulfilling their urge to perform. It was feeding into that evolutionary instinct. But over time, just like with anything under capitalism, it became less about creation and more about monetary value. People began to understand the strategy behind being a content creator — that if they create, and they put out consistently, they’ll grow an audience that they can then profit off of. And this isn’t because these content creators are evil, or create with ill intent — it’s because it’s what they have to do.
These content creators are people with rent and taxes — people who need food and water. They need money, and if they manage to make that money out of creating, then they’ve hit the jackpot. So, that urge to create, starts straying more and more away from spontaneous bursts of creativity and into strategic methods on making the most capital. They start asking the questions of how to monetize and how to be advertiser friendly. And ultimately, the relationship they have with their audience is discretely altered. It’s no longer a relationship between a performer and an audience, it’s the relationship between a business and a consumer. These creators stop seeing their audience as individual people, consuming their content, and more as vessels for the manufacturing of money. And the business they create in order to gain that money is less based on selling a physical product and more about selling the performer — the experience, the entertainment. As the performer keeps creating, they figure out more and more how to keep the audience hooked — they figure out the type of content they like, the type of content they don’t like, the optimum time for posting, all to adhere to the algorithm and ensure their growth. Alongside that, they begin selling not only themselves, but the idea of what they do — the idea of the performance. They sell the idea of how great it is to be a content creator, how incredible it is to be your own boss. They curated courses paying for hundreds of dollars on how to do just that — how to succeed in the digital marketplace, and these courses were never insightful or something that viewers haven’t heard before; courses like Jake Paul’sEdfluence.People were ultimately paying for the most generic advice that they could possibly get — they were told to work hard, and be consistent, and one day all that hard work will pay off and they too, will become a successful content creator. And people bought into that idea, completely disregarding the element of the algorithm and the element of sheer luck, because that just simply doesn’t allow the creator to profit off the idea of the constant ‘grind-set’ and this isn’t because the average viewer is mindless or ignorant. And it certainly isn’t becauseallthe viewers paying for these courses are young, impressionable kids — it’s true that a majority of them are, but it’s important to acknowledge that it is also because a life where you’re in charge of your own creation and your own assets, seems appealing to everybody, not just impressionable kids. And people are conditioned to believe that — to believe that independence is what should be strived for — that the best thing a person could possibly do is be the one in control, be the alpha of the pack. And this idea is perpetuated since we’re kids, and that is all by design.
If an authoritarian regime is examined, and we focus on the way the kids of that regime and taught and educated, what they’re taught is essentially only taught to serve the regime and to benefit its agenda — and this is for a reason. In Nazi Germany, for example, the political ideologies of the Nazis were present in every aspect of education, and that is to raise another generation of Nazis that will take Hitler’s place. It’s how the idea and the ideology is kept alive and prospering. It’s what allows these regimes to outlive their original creators and pioneers. , And it’s easy to do — children are young, they don’t know anything about the world yet. A child could be told probably anything and they would believe it, because they don’t have the life experience to prove otherwise, thus it’s easy to condition kids into any type of idea you want them to believe. However, it becomes more complex when we switch the conversation from an authoritarian regime — something that can be clearly examined, and deemed to either be extreme and oppressive or not, and something like social media. When a parent examines how their child is taught, and they see that their child is taught that performance is a good thing — that it’s good to adapt to different social situations, and it’s good to strive for success and to develop their creativity, that is not something that raises concern. Children being encouraged to create and develop their skills is not an issue of concern. What it is, is how they’re being taught to develop these skills. And it doesn’t only come from the school, it comes from every piece of media that a child consumes. As of 2022, children are asked to create videos for homework assignments, what that does is it gets the child comfortable in front of a camera and gets them comfortable performing, and performing to an audience. They know their teachers will watch this video, and their classmates might too. And they’re kids, so they obviously see no hidden agenda behind this. They think it’s cool that they get to create videos and content for school, because it makes them feel like the content creators they idolize, the content creators who are selling the idea of performing online for a living to these kids. So, ultimately, that just manufactures a love and a need for performance. And they will keep nurturing that need to perform in the online social sphere because they’re constantly fed the idea of ‘making it online’, it’s the revamped model of the American dream. I myself had a YouTube channel when I was 8 years old because I wanted to be famous, I wanted to make money. I wanted to be a YouTuber like the ones I idolized — like the ones that sold that idea to me. It wasn’t because I genuinely enjoyed creating videos, but because I was taught that was the path I should be on. Money is good, creating is good, I can create on YouTubeandget money, therefore being a YouTuber is good. It’s transitive law. I performed a persona that really wasn’t a reflection of who I was. I was loud, and ecstatic — I seemed confident and comfortable. But the reality was, I wasn’t. I was a very quiet kid, I was shy, I had stage fright, and worst of all, I hated being in front of an audience. Thus, content creation wasn’t therapeutic or cathartic for me, it was a source of distress. It was a draining act that I felt Ihadto do, to me, creating YouTube videos was the equivalent of doing my math homework. And to be completely honest, I should have never been allowed to create a YouTube channel to begin with.
The internet, despite several desperate attempts to ‘keep it under control’, is not the best place for a kid to exist, because it’s such a vast and unregulated place, that oftentimes is a reflection of anarchy, but something needs to be said about the way children are treated on the internet and the lasting effects that arise as a result of that treatment. As an 8-year-old, with a harmless gaming channel, I was met with a reception of people, who all seemed to be much older than I was, telling me I was dumb, stupid, not worthwhile, uninteresting — some even went as far as to tell me to kill myself. So, something about being subjected to that type of treatment — that type of hate that exists beyond the playground ‘your mom’ jokes, ultimately has lasting, often irreversible effects on a child. Adults with life experience and fully developed prefrontal cortexes find it difficult to deal with hate comments, despite their existing knowledge that hate comments are simply the result of insecure individuals perpetuating an aggressive and hostile persona that they cannot embody in real life. Hatred is often a reflection of insecurity and dissatisfaction on the side of the offensive party. And that knowledge in and of itself, serves as a form of compensation for the creator — a form of alleviation of the effects that hate comment might have had. Adults have the ability to critically think and analyze the world around them, therefore they’re able to deem that hate comment redundant and obsolete. As a child, however, you do not possess that same ability to critically think and analyze, nor the deeply rooted belief that that hate comment is not a reflection of shortage on your side, but more of a reflection of insecurity on the hate commenter’s side. So, ultimately, those hate comments end up mattering. They end up being the comments that stand out amongst the latter. And what makes this worse than experiencing a playground insult, is that you cannot see the perpetrator. It’s a completely anonymous interaction, which ensures that the child is never able to gain closure. And what that exposure to a hostile community that seems to be rigged against the child does is create a lifetime of anxiety, depression, low-self esteem, behavioral issues, and academic degradation.
What’s arguably even worse, is these children aren’t properly equipped to deal with such comments, they’re still children. So, what you’re left with, is a child contemplating upon negative information that they’re told is a reflection of who they are, and they don’t know what to do with that information. So they obsess over it, that urge to perform somehow increases. Because in school, at home, these children are taught that mistakes are learning opportunities. So, if that child starts viewing the content they’re being hated on for as a ‘mistake’, they’re going to keep creating content on the hopes that if they perform better, if they create content of more value, then they won’t receive hate comments — then the same people praying upon their suicide will actually praise them instead, which is unrealistic, but these children aren’t aware of that because they simply don’t have the life experience that tells them that. And this is not as uncommon as you might hope it to be. Every other day, another child — a toddler if you will, goes viral on TikTok for having fun — for acting like a child, for simply exhibiting youth. And what they’re met with a hostile reception you’d expect to see in a right-wing bigot’s comment section, not an eight year old boy’s. They’re met with hundreds of thousands of people tearing them apart, focusing on every aspect of their being and turning into ridicule. And that sudden influx of hatred does nothing but cause that child to constantly feel the need to perform and to perform, until they are able to fit in, and until they are able to stop receiving these hate comments. And this isn’t the redemption arc of that kid’s creative tendencies, it’s, as was stated before, the birth of a lifetime of insecurity, of hyper-fixation on every single thing wrong with them — every flaw becomes a matter of life or death.
I experienced that form of hatred first hand, I understand exactly how it messes with the psyche of a developing mind, so ultimately, I stopped creating videos. But that urge was built in, it was engraved. It was now a habit to perform and to monetize, despite the fact I never made a cent out of my content. It was aboutthe possibilityof me making a cent. And that possibility and that unpredictability is the basis of how social media functions. It’s how social media platforms are able to ensure engagement. They work in the same way slot machines do. In order to refresh their feed, the user must pull down on the screen, and then they’re allowed to infinitely scroll through a seemingly infinite amount of content catered to them. It’s pulling the lever on a slot machine, and that lever is pulled down through the expectancy of a reward. The outcome is unpredictable, and whether or not the user actually receives the reward is redundant because what the platform ultimately relies on is not the reward, it’s the repetitive action that is manufactured as a result of craving a reward. And the same applies to posting on social media. But instead of the rewards coming in the form of a pulling-down-on-the-lever mechanism, they come as a result of the click on the ‘post’ button and the adrenaline rush a person gets with the unpredictability of the outcome of that post — a certain someone might like the post, the post could get monetized or go viral. The outcomes are endless and endlessly unpredictable. No one knows what’s going to happen as a result of that post, so it’s the idea of a potential future reward that keeps the user hooked, and engaged. It’s what keeps users posting and creating — the hope that something will come out of this. And it’s addictive by design. Social Social media addiction isn’t a myth perpetuated by concerned parents to convince their kids to get off their phones, it’s what these platforms were designed to produce. They were designed to manufacture addiction because that ultimately results in the most engagement, the most repetitive and compulsive behaviors, which in turn is what gets them the most money. To sum it up, social media platforms were designed to digitize the performer.
Performance has strayed away from competition for an agent’s approval, becoming less and less about who gets cast for the role, and more about who has the ability and the endurance to continue performing for as long as humanly possible. It’s the modern model of the 1518 dancing plague in France. It’s this involuntary and uncontrollable need to perform, and this need is contagious by design. We’re all plagued with it. It’s a disease with no cure. The performer becomes the audience and the audience simultaneously becomes the performer. And we need to monetize this plague. We’re competing to get recognized for it. And the issue arises because, ultimately, the plagued is competing for the attention and the audience that validates the creation in an anarchist sea of a billion other performers. And the value of the work being created isn’t dictated by real people, it’s dictated by an algorithm designed to look for what’s going to get its platform the most money. There are billions of content creators in the social sphere that are unheard of as of the moment, and that’s not because their content is terrible or invaluable, it’s because the algorithm doesn’t think it’s going to generate as much money. It’s why controversial people — people like Shane Dawson, Jaystation, Andrew Tate, and so many more ‘blow up’. It’s all because they generate controversy — it’s not about their actual content, it’s an algorithm that thinks that if it pushes that content, people are either going to adore it or despise it — either way, they’re going to interact with it, which causes more engagement. And that divide between people who hate it and people who like it will spark conversation and debate, which in turn, causes more engagement for the platform. So, to put that in Layman’s terms, we are no longer performing for other people, we are performing for AI. The robots have already taken over the world. Wake up. It’s increasingly becoming less about what the general population wants, and more about what the massive body of zeroes and ones wants.
So, naturally, when the only goal is monetization and success, what ends up occurring is that the content creator stops adhering to an actual, human audience and begins appealing to an artificially intelligent body. The content begins to be built on the preconceived hope that when the algorithm dictates what’s relevant and desirable, your content is going to be amongst that sea of ‘value’, however that’s defined. And with this inherently capitalistic goal is that the creator ultimately stops caring about what the idea behind the creation is, and more about what that idea entails — what that idea brings. It’s building upon the same addictive and unpredictable slot machine mechanism. It’s content creators asking the question of how they can succeed, without first asking the questions ofwhythey should succeed, and what is that they bring to the table. It becomes less about giving to a community of creatives, and more about what can be done to take the money and the time of an audience.
The gist of all of this is, we are essentially selling ourselves before we have a tangible product to sell. Creation starts less with an idea and more with how much money and how big of an audience we can createifwe have an idea. The ‘if’ has been established, but the ‘what’ remains in the shadows. If you look at creative’s whose work was deemed valuable — Van Gogh, Kafka. They didn’t create for the sake of capital. Kafka, despite arguably being one of the best writers of all time, burnt 90% of his work. He wrote for the sake of writing, it wasn’t about what his non-existent audience wanted, it wasn’t about the money. It was about that feeling, and that urge to create. It was about the art. Van Gogh was a lonely man, he soldonepainting in his lifetime. Both he and his art were rejected from society, but when we look at how we view Van Gogh’s work now, we see it as incredibly valuable.Starry Nightis worth $100 million and is regarded as one of the greatest pieces of art of all time, despite the fact the piece was rejected at the time it was made. That isn’t to say that good artnevergets the recognition it deserves during the artists lifetime, but that does bring up a question of the purity of art and the purity of work — specifically, what it is that deems a work valuable and as a ‘pure form of art.’ Content creation, at its core, is an art form. It’s a performance. And if we base this argument off of the idea that the most valuable and pure forms of art are those that continue to retain value despite a lack of positive public reception at the time of initial release and despite a lack of monetary value. Specifically, continuing to retain value as they are simply influential pieces of work despite the price tag, or rather lack thereof they were deemed with. To simplify it, Van Gogh’sStarry Nightis still valuable despite the fact he could not sell it when he was alive. Franz Kafka’sThe Metamorphosis is still valuable despite the fact that he could not publish it when he was alive. But that model doesn’t fit how artistic value is dictated in the digital age. Value in the digital age, is more or less, dictated by the numbers — the followers, the likes, and the comments. So, what does that say about the art or the content that is created on social media? If we value a post or a video purely based on the reception it gets, then the worst people alive — the most morally questionable and the most controversial, end up creating the most “valuable” work, in that case, people like Shane Dawson must ultimately create extremely valuable work, because the numbers say so. Shane Dawson has a total 19.5 million subscribers as of December of 2022, and it can only assume that this number will continue to grow, because despite his controversies, his following and his audience has not been visibly or effectively hindered. But that’s obviously not the case, so what dictates value in the digital age? How do we determine if someone is worthy of an audience or not, whether someone should have a platform compared to someone that shouldn’t? And the answer is, we don’t.
‘Making it’ and the success of your work, isn’t really about value or influence anymore, every work is influential in some way or another, therefore ‘influence’ is no longer a basis for which we can dictate value. And value is still somewhat significant to the content creator’s chances of success, because it is value that allows for the sustenance of an audience. But ultimately, ‘making it’ is a sales pitch to an algorithm. It’s the creator conversing with an artificial intelligence that’s designed for the sole purpose to exploit any and everything in its path to configure the most money. And the success of the content creator is based on the unspoken promise that occurs between algorithm and creator that promises it that the creator’s audience will ultimately result in more money for the platform, and if the audience fails to generate that money, then it means the death of that content creator’s digital career on that platform. It’s the need to meet an unpredictable algorithm — an algorithm which is not understood by the very people who programmed its unrealistic expectations. If your content doesn’t meet the algorithm’s standards, or it doesn’t fit well with what advertisers want, then the algorithm deems your work invaluable, and therefore stops promoting it to an audience. Every sci-fi film has always warned about AI and robots taking over the world and rendering humanity obsolete, but the reality no one seems to want to face or acknowledge as of the current moment is that we have already been deemed obsolete. AI has already taken over the world. We, as humanity, are no longer the ones dictating the value of art, arguably the most intimate expression of the human experience and what it means to be alive and conscious. It’s an algorithm, created by people, that has become so advanced, it is able to think for itself. And as a result of that, it is able to deem art valuable or invaluable, without the need for human assistance, therefore rendering our insight and our input irrelevant and redundant. And subsequently, in order to keep art surviving and in order to keep creating, the art we create in the digital age, the content to put in a different way, focuses less on what humanity desires, or wants, or needs and more on what’s going to appeal to the mind constructed of zeroes and ones that is the algorithm. We’ve strayed away from the core of art itself, and we have turned that art into business and into capital. We turned it into strategy and methodology on getting money, and on appealing to the algorithm that has a mind of its own. Susan Wojcicki is no longer the one in-charge of YouTube anymore, it’s the AI. Ultimately, it’s not her that decides whether or not a viewer sees that new Five Minute Crafts video, it’s the algorithm. And to keep appealing to that algorithm as a creator — in order to keep succeeding, and to keep making money, the creatorhasto know how to sell.
3. The Current Business Model
Social media created an entirely new type of business, an almost dystopian business. The traditional business model was to create a physical product that can be then sold to a consumer for monetary gain. Social media took that same business model, and played around with the variables. Instead of creating a physical product, a performer is created — a tiny person in your screen serving the purpose of entertainment, and instead of paying with hard earned money, the viewer pays with the newest form of currency; eyeball hours. You’re paying with the amount of hours you sit glued to your screen, just watching and scrolling, and consuming content. And what makes this business model especially terrifying, is that when you were unsatisfied with a physical product, you could return it, exchange it for another or you can get a refund. You ultimately get compensated for your disappointment. But you never get your time back, you never get compensated for disappointing content. And if we consider a social media platform as a parent company — a massive corporation holding smaller businesses under it, if we look at it the same way we look at Coca-Cola or Zappos, then in that case, every content creator is just the owner of a business. And subsequently, they have to sell and market that business to grow. The current social media model was founded on the basis of achieving one simple goal; to grow. Douglas Rushkoff put it, “grow or die.” (Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, 10)
These corporations have to keep consuming the work of their puppeteers, their content creators — and they’re not exactly aware that they’re being controlled, that their work is notcompletelyindependent and ‘care-free’ as they were told. It’s not that every content creator you watch has this alternate agenda that’s designed to completely destroy you from the inside out, and transform you into a mindless-content-consuming-zombie, it’s not the fault of the individual. This is not an issue that exists on an individual level, this is an issue that exists systemically, and we are all the product of that need for capital and that need for growth. The backbone for social media was investors, and shareholders. So, to keep those shareholders from pulling out, we need to show them that this site is worthwhile. We need to show them that this is worth the millions they’re putting into it. And these social media platforms prove that worth through watch time. It’s not that your eyeball is handing them the cash persay, but it’s the fact that the act of just sitting in front of your screen creates engagement and money for the platform. And the more you interact with the content on said platform through means, not just likes, or comments, or follows, but purely byconsumingcontent — by scrolling, by clicking and by lingering on certain posts as you scroll, is what allows them to gather data. That data is then given to advertising companies, causing the platform, to again, generate more money. They are able to gather data on what you’re most interested in, what you need, and they promote ads to you according to that need. And all that does again, generates more money. And what’s already been established is that the algorithm functions to tailor your feed to your exact desire, so that your feed is ultimately a reflection of who you are — your likes and your interests. So the more accurate and tailored your feed is, the more likely you are to continue interacting and engaging with the platform. It’s what allows for an app like TikTok to be so addictive — it’s that the algorithm has mastered the ability to tailor your feed exactly to your liking, and to predict what content you’ll like and what content you won’t. So, ultimately, you do become the mindless-content-consuming-zombie, but at no fault of the content creator, more at the fault of the platform that exploits the content creator.
Their success is also not only reliant on the viewer and the consumer, but also reliant on the creator themselves. Without the act of posting and creating constantly, the platforms are obsolete. Twitter is nothing without its Tweets, Instagram is nothing without its posts. It’s all reliant on the content creator, and the relationship the content creator can create with the audience that engages with the platform. The content creator is sold the promise of independence and creative autonomy, in order to cause them to do the ‘dirty work’ for the platform. To cause them to create and generate engagement endlessly. And this promise is sold toeverybodythat interacts with that platform, so what that results in is a surplus of content to give a surplus of viewers even more things to interact with. Now, when looking at social media from a business and economic standpoint, we can determine that the world functions through supply and demand. What ultimately occurs when there is a surplus of a product, and not enough demand for that product, is that product eventually ends up being rendered worthless, and the same principle applies to social media. When you have a surplus of content, a lot of which is unknown to an audience and unsustained as a ‘brand’, that content is deemed as worthless — there’s too much content, but the issue that arises with this argument, is that contentisin demand — by both the platform and the consumer. Whether or not that content created generates an audience or not, the pure act of clicking the post button generates money for the platform. And what allows a content creator to succeed amongst a sea of a billion other content creators is the ability to provide the viewer with a reason to keep watching and to interact. That’s what differentiates the successful content creator, from the “unsuccessful” content creator. It’s the ability to sell, to market and to make yourself ultimately seem like the most desirable product on the market to increase the likelihood of someone clicking on your content in a sea of other content. So, you need to quite literally become a product. You need to self-promote, market, brand. And you need to sustain that brand. You need to become a business. And then it goes back to that currency of watch time. When the creator gets more engagement, the algorithm is more likely to promote their content further because it’s going to generate more watch time, so the creator ends up creating both themself and the platform more money. So to sum it up, we have corporatized the creator, and that is somehow reciprocated because we humanized the corporation.
Brands, businesses, and corporations with physical products, have mastered the art of marketing to not a consumer, but an audience. They took a product and marketed it in a way that’s funny, engaging, and relevant. It’s ‘funny marketing’ — where corporations will post memes, and will act self-aware online, and create content that will make the average viewer laugh in order to sell their product. We’re no longer telling you to buy this box of cereal, we’re telling you to buy this box of cereal because I’m broke and I need to pay my rent. It’s relatable, it’s funny, it appeals to human emotion. It’s KFC creating the dating simulator;I Love You, Colonel Sanders,it’s DuoLingo being self aware of all the DuoLingo bird jokes out there, it’s Wendy’s bullying people online, it’s companies making jokes in actual real people’s comment sections.
It’s ’cause marketing’ where the corporation will advocate for a social issue — we at Wix.com stand with Ukraine, we at Adidas are against racism. As weirdly exploitative of real socio-political and moral issues that actually affect real people, as that is, it works. These conversations are relevant, and had en masse. So, when everyone is talking about racism, and why it’s bad, and calling out these powerful individuals and bodies of power that contribute to racism, and out of the blue, emerges this massive corporation that puts out a statement criticizing racism, expressing its distaste towards it and taking an actual stance against it, that indirectly averts criticism from the corporation. People will become less likely to criticize these corporations in conversations about capitalist societies that allow for oppression, because these corporations that take these harsh, social stances, end up seeming like a corporate “voice for the people” And as more and more companies and corporations have joined human conversations about moral and socio political issues, the more normal it has become for them to do so. In fact, we demand them to do so — their presence in the conversation or their lack thereof now dictates whether or not, I, as a consumer buy their products. These issues are ultimately irrelevant to these corporations. These issues do not affect the corporate level — the bodies of power. In fact, it is these corporations that allow for the sustenance of issues like racism. Racism exists on an individual and systemic level, these corporations and mass bodies of power have the ability to clamp down on systemic racism, but they don’t because it doesn’t affect them. In fact, they profit off it. They profit off phenomena such as the prison industrial complex. Corporations, at their core, are preoccupied with how to get the most money from the consumer, how to sell the most products. If the way to making money is by exploiting the issues of the community and the individual, then so be it. It’s not actual concern and regard for the community, it’s marketing and it’s strategy on what generates the most money. This is the first time in history that we, as consumers, have demanded to be marketed to, we are being mass advertised to through our own accord, and therefore, involuntarily giving capitalism more opportunities to infiltrate our social spaces and profit off of real, important conversations centered around equally real and important issues. What we as the consumer should not forget is that a tweet, a statement, a nod of acknowledgement is sufficient from a person, from the average individual. That same statement and nod of acknowledgement, is not sufficient from an actual body of power, from a corporation with the means and the money to invoke social change. If a corporate body joins the conversation of why racism is bad, it should take actual action to invoke social change, instead of posting a statement drafted in an employee’s notes app.
Essentially, the aim of these companies is to successfully remove the individual from the conversation, making it so every aspect of human life is no longer dictated by the decisions of the individual, but rather the decisions of corporations. To, in short, further isolate humanity even more than it is isolated. These companies target very specific demographics — demographics who are seemingly the most actively engaged in these conversations, it’s a demographic that’s constantly growing. What cause and funny marketing essentially does is target the ‘left’ of the political spectrum. Over the past couple of decades, left-wing politics has been moderately increasing — since 1992, there has been an 8% increase in people identifying as left-wing or liberal in America as of 2020, this increase was met with a 7% decrease in people identifying as right-wing or conservative. Undeniably, a lot of conversations that take place in leftist spheres center around why capitalism is bad, and about the negative effects that it has on the majority of the population — the majority that exists outside the top 20% that does benefit off of capitalism. These conversations often center around the value of the individual and the human over the value of the corporation and the monetary value the corporation entails. This, in turn, results in more people willing to support privately owned small business, because when the corporation is examined, the leftist consumer deems the mode of production unethical — when faced with the dilemma of choosing between a product that was hand manufactured from the comfort of someone’s own home, and a product that was mass produced through a means of child labour or insufficient pay to the factory worker, the conscious consumer will choose to support the small business. And as a result of that decision, the amount of people becoming small business owners is increasing. 99.9% of businesses in the U.S. are small businesses (Forbes, 2022). These businesses ultimately stimulate economic growth and economic stimulation, they create more jobs for the population, and most of them exist ethically. And what makes them more valuable to the average consumer, is that when the consumer decides to support the small and the local businesses, they can almost instantaneously see the effects their purchase has on the small business owner. For large corporations, sales are the norm. They’re expected. For the small business, a sale is what they strive for, so ultimately, a single purchase ends up having a drastic effect that would not be present in a purchase from large corporations. To put it in a different way, whether the individual decides to boycott a large corporation like H&M, isn’t really going to do anything to affect the company, but if they were to boycott the small business, they can see that effect.
So, when the corporation is placed in conversations criticizing capitalism and mass production that ultimately does not do much to support or benefit the ‘blue-collar worker’, and they witness the ever-growing love for small, local businesses and ethical consumption first hand, that creates an area of conflict. That corporationmustsave face in order to continue to ensure its growth and prosperity. Ultimately, these corporations will take a step back to examine the situation, and they’ll begin to appeal on a human level in the same way the small business does. They’ll convince the consumer that they create a product with their benefit in mind — that their intent is to improve the quality of their lives, not to exploit it. So, they’ll begin pretending to care about the social problems that affect the community, they’ll begin embodying human aspects that we value — empathy, humor, interaction. They’ll begin interacting with the consumer on social media platforms, creating a strange para-social relationship where they’re ultimately trying to convince the consumer that ‘H&M’ is not a brand, and not a name — but rather a person, a human. An individual that should be valued just as much as the small business owner. These corporations then start existing in the comment sections of the consumer, on the social feeds of the consumer, seemingly endlessly advertising the brand, and the name of the corporation. And the small business, despite its strengths, does not come out on top in this situation. The corporation continues to be valued under an undeniably capitalist regime. It’s the CEO and the corporation over the blue-collar worker and the individual. Their foundation, at its core, allows it to survive in a capitalist society. These corporations are founded on mass production — cheap, mass production which allows them to be readily available, accessible, and instantaneous to the consumer, more so than the small and local business. The corporation itself has not changed, it has not become moral, and in no way, a representative of the average people. The corporation has only adapted to a newly digitized capitalist era, and the way for it to adapt in an environment where it is constantly under the spotlight, is to entangle itself with humanity, it is to become seemingly one with the consumer — where it becomes increasingly difficult to separate individual and corporation. And these corporations will continue to prosper more so than the small business, as they are founded by people with degrees and doctorates in business and marketing — people who know and have the means to play on the human psyche to amass the most money out of it, the small business owner, fundamentally, doesn’t have the same access to mass production or mass marketing that the corporation does, making it difficult to survive in a capitalist economy despite it’s ethics. Between March 2020 and March 2021, 1.1 million small businesses opened, and 180,000 small businesses closed. 1 in 5 of small businesses fail within only the first year, and nearly half of these businesses fail due to a lack of market demand.
What these corporations are ultimately doing is convincing the consumer that they’re people. When the proletariat inevitably rise up and take down the bourgeois, spare DuoLingo because DuoLingo makes TikToks that make people laugh. And the issue that arises when laughing from posts made by corporations, is that you’re essentially laughing at an advertisement, it’s not willing. It’s conditioning you to buy that product. When I watch a Bo Burnham comedy show, and I laugh, that is an expected outcome. He is a comedian, if I go to his comedy shows, I know that I will laugh because that’s their purpose. The relationship that exists between Bo Burnham and I when I laugh at one of his jokes, is one of performer and audience — at its core, that isn’t a harmful relationship. That’s a relationship that has existed as long as art has. When Bo Burnham makes me laugh, he’s not exploiting me for my assets — he makes me laugh as a service that I pay for. But, when I laugh at an advertisement, that’s not an expected outcome, and isn’t a relationship between a comedian and an audience, it’s still the same relationship between corporate and consumer. But instead of paying to laugh — the laughter being the expected outcome of my payment, I laugh to pay. They make me, as the consumer laugh, to urge me to buy their products. It’s an exploitative marketing tactic, and it exploits the human need for joy and laughter. I first found out about Bo Burnham through an Instagram post in 2015, and since then, I’ve continued to consume his content and his work because he made me laugh. The same principle applies to the corporation that creates the illusion of the comedian. When they make the consumer laugh, they’re more willing to buy their product. I didn’t have DuoLingo before they made a TikTok account, but the more I found their videos on my For You Page, the more I wanted to download the app — and I did. These advertisements don’t follow the general structure of an advertisement either, they don’t shove an actual product in your face, they conceal it behind the jokes. Duolingo is the product. KFC is the product. Just like the performer, the corporation begins to sell itself in the hopes that this tactic sells their product. And we’re aware of all of this. No one actually has a para-social relationship with the Duolingo bird, these corporations ultimately really don’t care if we laugh or not. But they’re aware the more they make us laugh, and the more they pretend to care, the more money they’ll be able to take out of the consumer’s pockets. It’s an incredible marketing tactic, it works. But it does essentially mean that capitalism is able to continue to infiltrate the individual’s life further, to the point where corporations are the reason you’re laughing, or caring about an issue. They’ve found a way to profit off of every single conceivable human emotion and experience. Everything is profited off of, everything is money to the corporation. It’s all corporate over individual, and capitalism over individual. It’s getting rid of the independent value created by the individual, and transforming it into corporate value, where the top 1% continue to be in charge of most of the money in the world because they ultimately all benefit off of each other. It’s a mutual relationship that does everything but benefit the viewer and the consumer.
One might assume that as these corporations join more and more moral and ethical conversations, then that will ultimately invoke positive social change as these corporations areforcedto be aware of the issues they contribute towards, but ultimately, they still don’t care. Don’t think for a second that any social media platform values morality and ethics over the money they can generate from watch time. Social media platforms have been known to push out more controversial content.
Facebook actively pushes out content that’s met with anger, discourse, and debate — controversial content, to put it shortly. To no one’s surprise, that isn’t by accident. It’s by design. If you examine the people who seem to ‘blow up’ or go viral in political spheres on both sides of the spectrum, it’s because of controversy. It’s because their content generates discourse and debate, it generates both negative and positive reception. Generally, it generates engagement. Ben Shapiro is controversial, and when you examine his content, every time he puts out an extremist take, it is met with a reception of responses — both in support and opposition, and more content analyzing and debunking his points. This discourse, and these conversations all occur on the social media platform, mutually allowing more engagement for both the controversial figure and the social media platform. When someone spews a controversial take on Twitter, and that Tweet leads to conversations, these conversations ultimately occur in the replies of said Tweet or in the quote retweets. That’s more engagement for Twitter, i.e, more money for Twitter. It’s not by coincidence or by accident that we tend to see a lot of content that we disagree with, or other people talking about content that we disagree with. It’s by design, it’s to generate conversation and engagement for the platform. More engagement equals more money, that’s the quota. And it’s not only controversy that’s pushed to us, we’re shown content that we do agree with and content we show even the slightest bit of interest in — whether that interest is voluntary, or positive or negative is not relevant to that platform. Interest is interest.
A user could accidentally interact with misogynistic content, and the algorithm will push more misogynistic content to them because that’s what it thinks they want to see. And if they see a TikTok from someone saying something like ‘women are the spawn of Satan’, and they look at the comment section and they see thousands of people validating that statement — they’re more willing to believe it. It’s the bandwagon theory, or the contagion effect. It goes back to that evolutionary need to belong and conform to a social group, to be surrounded by a community of like-minded people. This contagion effect allows people to adopt ideologies that they don’t really understand — ones that they won’t really take the time to look into, because it’s not a matter of interest in the ideologies, it’s a matter of pressure to conform to what they perceive is the status quo. People on the right-wing side of the internet believe that being right-wing is the status quo, while people on the left believe that being on the left is the status quo. What that does, is it manufactures people on both sides of the political spectrum that are unsure of what they truly should believe in as a leftist, or as a republican. That allows for the rapid spread of misinformation in conversations about politics, socio-political issues, morality, etc. What that spread of misinformation and what state of ignorance does is it manufactures bigoted conservatives and leftists who don’t know what being left-wing entails, and it puts these people in an environment where they’re forced to converse with each other. That, in turn, creates arguments where neither side of the party is benefiting or comprehending what’s going on. That isn’t to say thatallonline discourse is unproductive and hostile, and it isn’t to say thatallpeople on each side of the political spectrum don’t know what they’re talking about, but the goal of these social media platforms is to generate discourse — whether that discourse includes those who are politically, socially, and philosophically knowledgeable, or those that are fed the idea of knowledge through the platform. And it’s all for the sake of business. The inability to create dialogue between right-wingers and left-wingers, and the rise of extreme politics is a business — it’s a means for profit. It generates engagement, endless discourse, and endless debates that allow social media platforms to profit off of these mindless and hostile conversations. And if we examine the internet according to that idea — the idea that negative engagement, discourse, and debate generate engagement for a platform which then generates money, then cancel culture is no longer an online movement, but a business.
Cancel culture is a movement that should have been a force of good. An online boycotting of influential figures who have done wrong. Calling out people like Roman Polanski, Andrew Tate, R. Kelly, etc, etc. is essentially a good thing. It allows more and more people to acknowledge their wrong doings and then that could ultimately lead to the demise of their career or their de-platforming, or in the case of all of these individuals, their arrest. These people are objectively horrible and they deserve being arrested and being de-platformed. But the issue is, ‘good’ cannot exist on the internet for even a fraction of a second because the platform is ultimately going to find a way to turn that ‘good’ into engagement and into money. The larger issue is because of that, cancel culture isn’t working as well as it used to. It’s become extremely common for people to get ‘canceled’ — you no longer need to be a convicted criminal, you could have made a Tweet in bad taste 12 years ago, or expressed distaste towards an influential figure that has a cult-like following. And influential figures — people with presences in the media, preach the harms of cancel culture and the ‘irreversible’ effect it has on someone’s career, but if those people were to examine the trajectory of the careers of the people that have been canceled, it’s so easy to conclude that cancel culture does not really affect the career of the influencer or the content creator, and if it does, that effect is short lived. If you look at the scandal that occurred between James Charles and Tati Westbrook in 2020, and you look at how James Charles’ career played out following that, you see that at the time of him being canceled, he lost 2 million subscribers. But as of the current moment, he has over 23 million subscribers. The ‘daunting effects of cancel culture on the careers of content creators’ aren’t permanent, they’re extremely short lived, and in most cases, it causes the creator to prosper even further.
When an individual is met with a sudden influx of recognition — when their name is suddenly trending worldwide, that generates engagement for them. People who didn’t know who they were prior to the canceling, are going to look their names up and engage with their platforms. People are going to follow their social media accounts to monitor if they post anymore ‘cancelable’ content, in other words — hate follows. If you look at the general trend here, people who get canceled gain more followers from being canceled because it’s ‘hate’ follows. And all of that generates money for the platform and for the creator in question. When we ‘hate follow’ people and engage in endless discourse over that content, that generates more publicity for that creator, and since we’ve already established that content that receives more engagement is naturally pushed up through the algorithm, more money and more recognition. It’s the idea that ‘no publicity is bad publicity’ becoming a reality. It’s all engagement. It’s all recognition. But on the other hand, cancel culturehashad effects on content — someone like Shane Dawson who was averaging around 20 million views on his YouTube videos only gets around 2–3 million as of today (rightfully so, Shane Dawson should have been arrested, not canceled) — but the point still stands, Shane Dawson, despite how objectively terrible of a person he is, continues tohavea platform, regardless of whether it is as successful as it was before he was canceled. Generating even 3 million views on a Shane Dawson video is still a lot of money that goes into both his and YouTube’s pockets. Cancel culture ultimately does nothing more than push horrible people into the spotlight even more. It’s why someone like Andrew Tate was able to have a platform to begin with. What the platforming of these terrible creators does is allows the viewer — both the opposing and the supporting to again, generate engagement for the platform and the creator. It causes the fan bases to engage in discourse and debate (though hostile) with those who are critiquing the creator. And when these creators are able to generate cult-like followings, they subsequently pass their harmful ideologies down to their fanbases, resulting inmorecontroversy andmoreengagement.
4. The Mental Health Epidemic
Social media has not only exploited the tendencies of the individual, it exploited the downsides of being alive. It was able to manufacture side effects to the constant and obsessive use of social media — the obsessive tendency that most social media users suffer from. It became less of an environment we go on and use as a creative outlet, and more like a drug manufactured to ensure our survival. People could forget their keys, or their wallets at home but they couldneverforget their phones. The sheer idea of surviving without constant access to technology on the internet is seen as an item of ridicule and is seen as foreign. Humanity can no longer envision a time where we were not reliant on technology and on the internet. As of 2022, it’s estimated that about 4.9 billion people are on the internet. That’s a little over half of the people on this planet to put into perspective. Now, what the internet did is it gave us access to so much information all at the same time. Where we’re aware of what’s happening all over the world, all day every day. Instantaneously. Now, there’s a lot happening in the world right now, and the knowledge and the constant awareness of all of it is overwhelming. The news is no longer limited to the confines of a newspaper, a journal, or your TV screen, the news is everywhere. It’s integrated into the very fabric of social media, where you seemingly cannot exist on the internet without somewhat being aware of the major issues occurring in the world at the time. The news is everywhere, and honestly it’s never good. It’s all just terrible. And the problem has become that, since we’re having so many conversations about social issues, and how we can make the world a better place — which are important to have, these conversations and these issues end up becoming the media itself. Where social media no longer serves as an escape of the harsh realities of waking life and the real world, but it is rather a digitized embodiment of that harsh reality — ultimately rendering the user helpless when faced with the question “how do I escape?” Essentially, you cannot catch a break. Everywhere you turn, there’s discourse, graphic, gory images and videos, news articles, infographics — advertisements even, spreading awareness for animal cruelty, for global warming, for a seemingly infinite amount of issues that bombard the viewer, and achieve one single purpose; overwhelm. And what makes these issues so inescapable and so unbearable, is that the viewercannotturn them off. It’s easy to turn off a movie you don’t like, if we go off the idea of object permanence, once that movie is turned off, you no longer have to deal with it. Essentially, that movie no longer exists to you as long as it is not playing. But the issue with turning off your phone or your computer when faced with an issue that you simply don’t want to contemplate right now, is that whether or not you’re interacting with this issue digitally or not, is irrelevant. That issue continues to exist whether or not you read about it, because ultimately, you are living the issue. News about the economy and inflation stress me out, they invoke a sense of panic within me, but it’s hard to avoid those sources of distress when I see these issues being played in my day-to-day life. And because these issues are inescapable, you feel compelled to care — or at least pretend, to care about every single one of these issues, because if you don’t, are you even human? Do you have basic empathy? Do you not care about the outcome of society? Do you not want to make the world a better place for the upcoming generations? Are you complicit with the oppressor?
The answer was put very simply, by Ginetta Sagan; “silence in the face of injustice is complicity with the oppressor.” What this quote essentially does is spread the message that we, as a society, need to be vocal in order to inflict positive, social change. At its core, it’s good and it’s valid. Weshouldstand up against the injustices in the world because thatishow positive social change is inflicted. We cannot expect change if we duck-tape our mouths shut, say nothing, and hope the government will know what we, as a people, want telepathically. But what has happened is — much like a game ofBroken Telephone,the initial meaning of that quote was lost through transmission. That quote has become the means of inflicting pressure on the individual to inflict positive social change, when in reality, the average individual is rendered almost helpless in the face of issues that mostly exist on a systemic level. The ordinary person does not have the means — the power, the audience, or the money to invoke change on a systemic level; they can only do it on an individual community level. All that does is it takes the responsibility off of the governments and corporations that allow these oppressive systems to flourish, and it places them on the people– most of whom are pretty young. That isn’t to say that having conversations about social issues isn’t important, it is. It’s crucial for our society and our generation to understand what these issues are and how they are caused, to understand how hatred is taught and what exactly is wrong with the world because awareness is a weapon we can utilize. But the reality of the situation is, we are living inside a broken vase, these governments and corporations expect us to fix that vase, but it is only they have have the super glue and the pieces to fix it, so we really can’t do anything. Eventually, however, wewillhave the pieces to fix this vase. We will be in charge of the systems that cause these issues, and then we will have the tools and the willingness to fix them as a result of the conversations we’re currently actively engaging in. But placing the responsibility of fixing all of these issues on people who just don’t have the pieces, and expecting them to fix it right now when the world is evidently not working in their favor is nothing short of insanity.
The individual personcancause change on the individual level, they can help their co-workers, peers, family members, friends, acquaintances, etc, etc. unlearn hatred. But attempting to inflict this change brings up another issue; the inability to create productive dialogue. It’s to no one’s surprise that the world is extremely divided — it always has been, we’ve had wars, borders, revolutions. But the divide we’re experiencing right now isn’t physical (if you don’t account for social distancing and the lack of human interaction people have to deal with as a result of the pandemic), it’s ideological and political. All of these conversations are taking place between all the placements on the political compass, and none of them are going anywhere. These conversations are often hostile (on both ends) and derogatory which does nothing to sway either side of the party. It’s difficult to hear out the opposing party’s view when they’re calling you a racial slur, and it’s difficult to hear out the opposing party’s view when they’re insulting your intelligence. And it’s overwhelming to see these conversations go relatively no where, and to see horrible and bigoted people remain in power, that just creates the sense that change is something we’ll never achieve — which isn’t true. And it’s even more overwhelming when you are part of the generations that are going to bare the consequences of this lack of change.
Almost half of millennials and generation Z worldwide report that they are most or all of the time stressed. And according to Health Match, in the past year, 90% of Generation Z kids have reported experiencing psychological or physical symptoms as a result of stress. Ninety-percent. And it’s partly because of the pressure we feel to stay up to date, to speak up, to constantly stay politically correct, to never diverge from our social group’s ideological status quo. In other words, morally, you are not allowed to mess up, you mess up, and you’re not forgiven. You’re outcasted from the social group, you either become the ‘blue haired liberal’ or the confederate flag. Staying up to date is no longer a want, it’s a must — I have to stay up to date, because if I don’t, I involuntarily catalyze a catastrophic butterfly effect — I could get outcast from my social groups, my ignorance could be misconstrued as to bigotry (then leading to a plethora of other problems) — and the issue is, even if the ignorance is innocent and not of ill intent. The internet does not care, it simply will not give you the opportunity to speak and defend yourself, what makes ‘cancel culture’ scary is most of the people participating in cancel culture fundamentally believe that a person who’s done wrong once is incapable of change and growth. It’s what causes people to dig up old Tweets from 15 years ago and use them as evidence to prove that the person in question is actually a horrible person. It disregards the possibility for growth, and it disregards the presence of an era thatallowedbigotry to exist. It’s disregard for what English teachers loved to refer to as ‘historical context’. Sylvia Plath has often been regarded as one of the greatest feminist literary writers of our time, but she was racist. It is important to acknowledge that, and it is important to be aware of the racist elements of her writing when consuming it, but the issue, there have been people attempting to cancel Sylvia Plath (despite the obvious fact she’s dead), and almost singling her out. Sylvia Plath was born in the 1930’s — an era of racism in America. An era of Jim Crow laws and media that perpetuated harmful and racist ideologies. It is a fact that racism is bad, so when Sylvia Plath is racist, that’s ultimately not a good thing. However, it’s wrong to criticize her racism while disregarding the environment she grew up in, and disregarding that many writers at the time she was alive, also expressed those same racist ideologies. So the conversation should ultimately focus more on the racist past of America, and less on Sylvia Plath herself, because she was ultimately just a product of Jim Crow society (again, it’s still bad she was racist).
But the average cancel culture participant isn’t going to implement that entire thought process into their decision when creating the hashtag “Sylvia Plath is over party”. So, when a young person ultimately sees these influential figures get torn apart for their past mistakes, current mistakes, and future mistakes as a result of not adhering to the ‘cancel culture political ideology’, that creates pressure to conform. It creates pressure to stay up to date with socio-political discourse and every issue going on around the world to avoid becoming the next “Sylvia Plath is over party”. In order to avoid having their past mistakes, or lack thereof, dug up and used against them in a future in which they probably don’t remember these mistakes because they havegrownas a person. Ultimately, what the cancel culture sphere does is it attempts to manufacture the ‘perfectly moral person’, disregarding that no one isbornperfectly moral, and achieving morality is through a matter of growth. But no one is given the space to grow now. It creates a pressure to constantlyknowwhat is going on in the world. Ignorance is not an option. Knowledge is a force that you must yield, or have it be used against you. That is to say, people in our current world cannot be blatantly racist, homophobic, transphobic, sexist, etc, etc. without expectingsomesort of criticism, and some form of consequence — which in and of itself, is an opportunity to grow. But a 13-year-old kid should not have to know the state of the economy, and be forced to be involved in discourse on it. They shouldn’t have to know exactly where they fall on the political compass, and explain their views articulately and rationally, and engage in productive political discourse. These things are obviously not social media dogma, but they do increase the chances of survival on the internet, and that need to survive is overwhelming. We constantly care, and we constantly involve ourselves in these conversations to show that we arenotcomplicit with the oppressor, and all that results in is the curation of compassion fatigue, or secondary traumatic stress.
Compassion fatigue is ultimately the downside of caring — “…a term that describes [the] physical, emotional, and psychological impact of helping others — often through experiences of stress or trauma. Compassion fatigue is often mistaken for burnout, which is a cumulative sense of fatigue or dissatisfaction.” (WebMD, 2020) And there are five stages to it — just like grief. First, the person experiences emotional exhaustion where they. feel like they cannot deal with another emotion or they’re going to explode. Next, they begin experiencing a reduced sense of accomplishment or meaning, especially in their work. Ultimately, they deem everything they do to be worthless. Then, they experience mental exhaustion, their brain cannot take the load of the stress anymore. And they start decreasing their interactions with others, they isolate themselves. They start experiencing depersonalization where they feel like they’re watching themselves from outside their body, they feel that either they or everything around them isn’t real. And it’s a real problem. Especially when it comes to depersonalization.
That need to perform made it so that we see everything in our lives as a chance for performance. As a moment that should be captured. “Kids are like, walking through this, like meta-virtual-reality-world. It’s not that they think the world in their phone is real, it’s that they think the world in the real world is virtual. And that is just like, a thing to be seen — and everything I’m doing is actually a performance that can be captured and looked back on at any moment. And I’m not just living moments, I’m planning moments to look back on them.” (Bo Burnham, 2019) Where I no longer just go to the movies, I go to the movies, and I take pictures of myself in the theater, and I post them with a caption preaching the art of film. And it’s less about the experience itself, less about what I’m feeling in the moment, and more about how I will feel looking back at that moment — looking back at the pictures and the videos and the Tweets, all of it. It’s the constant sense of feeling like you’re not living. It’s walking through your life as a spectator. People are always worried that their consciousness is going to become digitized, that phones and chips will be implanted into children’s heads in the future. They already have. We’re living it. Consciousness is no longer a state of being, it’s an object for performance. It’s the infinite documentation of the human experience — it’s posting my morning routine, my night routine, what I eat in a day, what I do when I’m going to the bank. Ultimately, we are no longer alive outside our phones. We wake up every morning, and we go on about our day to document it, to immortalize our experiences and our being. It’s the constant state of ‘pictures or it never happened’, it’s that we need to prove our existence, to prove that we are alive and that we are breathing. And we base the value of our existence and our experiences based on the reception these routines and these normal things we are documenting get. How many likes I got after I posted a video of me doing my makeup, how many comments I got on my morning routine, it’s what validates us being alive. It’s less about experiencing life and more about watching other people watch a digitized version of you experiencing life. And because none of it is real — none of social media is real, we feel this sense to create a perfect image of ourselves and to create the perfect and the most desirable life, that creates a plethora of other problems. That creates pressure to live up to a standard that’s simply unachievable.
When you exist in a digital age that’s constantly performing perfectly calculator illusions of what is to be alive — illusions that have been revised and altered to the point of perfection, the people consuming these illusions are ultimately going to feel that they’re not living ‘enough’ and they’re going to contemplate over why their lives don’t look like the ones they see on their screens. We ultimately begin to feel that if we ‘lived more’ then maybe our lives would be perfect too. That just manufactures envy, jealousy and the feeling that you’re not living life to the fullest. It’s fear of missing out — FOMO, coined in 2004 and used to describe a phenomenon that was observed on social media. FOMO is characterized by feeling that you’re missing out and then developing a compulsive behavior that allows you to maintain social connections in order to feel like you’re no longer missing out. To put it simply, “FOMO is really the fear of not being connected to our social world, and that need to feel connected sometimes trumps whatever’s going on in the actual situation we’re in. The more we use social media, the less we think about being present in the moment.” (Jerry Bubrick PhD, 2021) Recent studies have also found that there is a correlation between FOMO and depressive disorders. There is an undeniable link between social media and depression, but it is ultimately correlation not causation. Social media doesn’t cause depression, but studies have found that teenagers and young adults who spend more time on social media report higher rates of depression — about 13–16% higher, than those who spend less time. A 2017 study conducted on 500,000 twelfth graders found that the number of people exhibiting high levels of depression symptoms had increased by 33% between 2010 and 2015. In that same time period, the suicide rate for twelfth grade girls increased by 65%. Additionally, there has been a sharp spike in reports of students in college and university seeking counseling for depression and anxiety, these visits increased by 30% between 2010 and 2015. The way researchers are attempting to explain this spike is through the idea that we are losing human connection. “The less connected you are with human beings in a deep, empathetic way, the less you’re really getting the benefits of social interaction, the more superficial it is, the less likely it’s going to cause you to feel connected, which is something we all need.” (Alexandra Hamlet PsyD, 2021) And it keeps getting worse. The more we’re on our phones, the less productive we are — the less physically active we are being, and because of that people tend to develop depression. And when you spend all your time on your phone, your concentration is disrupted when you’re doing your homework, or you’re in class which leads to a decline in academic performance, and correspondingly — you’re more stressed out, you’re more depressed. And because of the blue light interface on almost every electronic device with access to the internet, we’re losing sleep, which yet again, plays a role in depressive symptoms.
All of our time and energy is being put into trying to create the image that we think is the perfect life, we’re trying to convince ourselves and everyone around us that we’re happy, that we’re beautiful, that we’re having the time of our lives when we’re not. And we’re not taking the actions that actually cause us to have the happiness and that sense of beauty that we so desperately desire, we’re artificially manufacturing it and all that does is make us more miserable and make everyone around us equally miserable. We’re involuntarily creating standards that are so unnecessarily high, and difficult to achieve. No one’s life is that perfect, no one looks that perfect all of the time. Everyone has nose hairs, everyone has skin texture. But when you’re scrolling through your Instagram feed, you’re not going to think about the professionals editing someone like Gigi Hadid’s pictures. You’re not going to think about the people who have mastered the art of removing every single thing on the skin and face of a person that causes them to look human. It’s the art of airbrushing, the art of perfection. And it doesn’t work out for anyone. Because when you’re an international super model, and you look at the pictures you’re being praised for and you look nothing like them, you’re just going to get insecure. Kim Kardashian herself, came out about her body dysmorphia because of how she’s constantly edited and body shamed online — essentially, she doesn’t know what she looks like.
Body dysmorphia is a conversation that isn’t nearly enough as it should be, and it is one that needs to be brought up more in conversations about the effects of the media on mental health. Body dysmorphia is a real issue that can lead to an influx of other problems, and without it even leading to those issues, it is still a problem. It’s been linked with eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and the list goes on. It’s a mental health condition that causes a person to spend a lot of time contemplating different flaws they find in their physical appearance. And these flaws that they see in themselves aren’t noticeable by everyone else. They’ll contemplate every single nose hair, every pore. Everything, regardless of the fact that they know that it is these nose hairs and these pores and blackheads that are part of being human. You can’t get rid of your pores, they’re there for a reason, it’s how your skin breathes. And there is currently so much research that suggests a correlation between excessive social media usage and body dysmorphia. Anisha Khanna and Manoj Kumar conducted a study calledSelfie Use: The Implications for Psychopathological Expression of Body Dysmorphic BehaviorThe study was based on the idea that people cope with body dysmorphic behavior in different ways but the most common way in which they cope was seeking approval from people online. As a result of this study, psychiatrists found that repeatedly taking selfies has actually helped to manage distress associated with physical appearance. It’s estimated that about 1.7%-2.4% of people suffer body dysmorphic disorder, and the prevalence of whether more women have it or more men have it is unclear — some studies found a higher prevalence in women, others found an equal ratio between men and women. The gist is, this can happen to anyone. Khanna and Kumar coined what is known as the Self-Verification Theory, which states that “…selfies are used to receive self verification from others in the form of positive comments, likes, but for those with body image issues, it leads to constant seeking and comparing of others’ evaluations, ultimately leading to depressed affect.”(Khanna and Kumar, 2017) What has occurred is because we are constantly documenting what we are doing and taking pictures of ourselves, when we are already experiencing symptoms of BDD, the condition worsens. No studies have found that if you use Instagram, you’re going to develop body dysmorphia, but when you already have it, it just makes the symptoms worse.
The case study conducted by Khanna and Kumar that led to their findings investigated a 21-year old single graduate pursuing a degree in education. She belonged to a middle socioeconomic class and complained of fears that she had in regards to interacting with others. Since her childhood, she was preoccupied with her appearance (especially her face, nose, hair, and complexion), and she had been excessively using social media for 8 years and actively taking selfies for 3 years. Her symptoms fluctuate and there was no precipitating factor to them. She reported doing mentally well until she was 14 years old in 2008. She believed she was academically-below average — causing her to become hypersensitive to her teacher’s comments and actively compared herself to her peers. This resulted in feelings of inferiority which eventually led to a decline in her academic performance, however she managed to pass high school after her psychiatrist prescribed her medicine that would help alleviate her mental wellbeing. In May of 2013, she was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder and BDD and began therapy sessions that focused on psycho-education, cognitive restructuring, mirror retraining, exposure, and response prevention. In October of 2013, her symptoms worsened and her medicine intake increased. She ultimately wanted to look good in order to be socially accepted and liked on social media, and she preferred being online than active in the real world. After therapy, she exhibited positive results. Her mirror usage reduced, her phone usage reduced, and she was able to challenge some of her negative thoughts.
The study concluded that social media created body image problems (especially among girls) as society often defines women by their social appearance, more so than men. And this causes symptoms of BDD in girls to decrease as they set beauty to a high, nearly perfect standard that they cannot fulfill, ultimately leading to negative self perception and low self esteem. What social media does, is it essentially creates a haven for insecurity to grow — it consistently perpetuates unrealistic body standards that are impossible to naturally meet and maintain by anyone.
We see these insecurities manifested in so many different ways. Plastic and cosmetic surgery has been on the rise, that isn’t to say that every person who gets a BBL or lip fillers has body dysmorphia or an eating disorder, but the increase is drastic. Plastic and cosmetic surgeries have readily been increasing — statistics displayed a 44% increase in non-surgical procedures and a 54% increase in surgical procedures. In 2021 alone, 1.56 million cosmetic procedures were performed. In a study conducted by the Tilmann von Soest Norwegian Social Research, they found that 6% of Norwegian women between the ages of 17 and 65 have had plastic surgery, and the girls who decided to undergo cosmetic surgery were on average more depressed, more anxious and more prone to suicide. After undergoing cosmetic surgeries, the participants of the study didn’t feel better about their lives or their physical appearance, instead their symptoms got worse. Plastic surgery has begun being viewed as a solution to other problems unrelated to low self esteem, and it’s disappointing when you get these surgeries, and you’re unrecognizable in the mirror, and your problems are still there. And some women who had had cosmetic surgery and were happy with the results still reported that their overall body image after the surgery didn’t change compared to their body image before the surgery. And when we talk about a procedure like a BBL, that is literally known as the deadliest cosmetic surgery procedure with 1 in 3,000 people dying of them as a result, , people are putting themselves throughhellto live up to that unrealistic expectation we have of what it means to look beautiful and what it means to lead a perfect life. Is beauty and is that illusion of perfection worth the price? Is it worth dying over? Matthew Schulman (a plastic surgeon) claimed that patients who come in for cosmetic procedures now use Snapchat filters as reference photos. So is looking like a Snapchat filter worth all the people dying in these surgeries?
And I’m not trying to create a conversation centered around the shaming of people who undergo cosmetic surgery — if they want one and if they can get one, it’s their decision. It’s not my responsibility to police what people can and cannot do with their bodies, and this is in no way to put people who have undergone cosmetic surgeries on blast and shame them for their decisions. In some cases, plastic surgery can alleviate mental health symptoms, there’s gender-affirming surgeries that generally work to reduce gender dysmorphia, there’s breast reduction surgeries that help make women’s lives easier. But something does need to be said about the extent we take to look like the people that are constantly advertised to us — these beautiful people, with perfect hair, and perfect bodies, and perfect skin, people who look almost subhuman. Because no one’s hair is that perfect, no one’s skin is that perfect. What has been perfected is not the actual appearance of the individual, it’s the ability to edit and conceal — it’s Photoshop. That’s all it is. And there’s another thing that needs to be said about people who get cosmetic surgeries and pass it off as a ‘glo-up’. If you are given an audience, and you undergo cosmetic surgery, and you lie to that audience and tell them it’s a ‘glo-up’, then there needs to be conversations about the implications of that — the results of dishonesty between ‘influencer’ and audience, dishonesty revolving ‘Facetuning’ photos and cosmetic surgery because this dishonesty doesn’t ‘save the reputation’ of the influencer, it contributed to an unrealistic standard. People are going to end up believing that theycanget smaller noses naturally, and theycanget bigger lips naturally, and they’re going to obsess over why that’s not happening to them, ultimately making the whole situation worse. But to summarize, this isn’t a criticism of the individual that undergoes a cosmetic surgery or the individual that Facetunes their photos, this is a criticism of the systems put in place that cause us to have that urge to begin with.
As of 2022, the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders has found that 9% of the global population struggles with eating disorders. 10,200 deaths a year are a result of eating disorders, that’s one death every 52 minutes, and about 26% of people with eating disorders attempt suicide. The National Eating Disorder Association conducted a study on women ages 18–25 that shows a link between Instagram and increased self-objectification and negative body image — particularly higher among women who viewed ‘fitspiration’ posts. The increase in eating disorders can be somewhat attributed to the posts and advertisements about weight loss substances, diets, etc.. It’s that constant comparison again between us and the people we see on social media, most of which are edited to look like the ideal body type. Certain posts and certain content could trigger eating disorders. A 2004 study found that the media played a significant role in the development of eating disorders– the media glorified slenderness and weight loss and deemed them beautiful. That isn’t to say they’re ugly, but when that’s the only thing the media deems beautiful, you don’t really have a choice but to lose weight. When you portray an unrealistic beauty standard that can only be achieved through plastic surgery and editing, for someone with an eating disorder- that is so toxic and extremely triggering. It causes them to compare their body to pictures that they see on social media, and they are often unaware that these pictures are edited or taken at certain angles to make the body look ‘ideal’. When your brain is on its downtime, and scrolling mindlessly through Instagram, you’re not going to critically think about whether or not this person edits their photos or not, you’re just going to consume the content which just makes you more insecure.
In addition to that, there was the glorification of eating disorders — the infamous pro-Ana era on Tumblr. For those that were lucky enough to not have witnessed that era of Tumblr, pro-Ana was a tag that romanticized anorexia. The posts under pro-Ana were very visually appealing, very aesthetic. They made having an eating disorder look almost poetic. They showed off people’s weight loss and just how little they would eat in a day, and you didn’t have to be part of pro-Ana to see these posts, they wereeverywhere, and they spread to other platforms in different forms. They spread to TikTok, Instagram, they created ‘thinspo’. And it taught you how to have an eating disorder, it was extremely, and still is, dangerous and triggering. Atop that, there is also so much dark humor centered around eating disorders, which continues to trigger people recovering from ED’s. Now, add that trainwreck to the inescapability of calorie restrictions, diet tips and weight loss advice, and you’ve got an eating disorder goldmine.
But it doesn’t stop with ED’s or pro-Ana. We have somehow glorified every single mental disorder or illness or struggle on this planet. The amount of jokes and content you see about self-harm, making it out to be this quirky experience is so undeniably dangerous. It’s triggering and it’s glorifies these very serious issues and impulses to young, impressionable people who don’t quite understand how significant of a problem suicide or self harm is. It’s people pretending to have mental disorders — people pretending that they have multiple personality disorder, or that they have bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia. These are real, complex mental illnesses that affect real people. But they’ve become a part of our ever growing performance, they’ve just become the prop with which we are able to appeal to an audience that grows increasingly more concerned with mental health everyday. It needs to be understood that bipolar disorder, dissociative personality disorder, etc, etc. are all genuine, clinically diagnosed, psychiatric conditions that hurt and affect real people — they’re not the basis for role play chats, or the means of which we can amass an audience on TikTok through the exploitation of personality systems and alters. These are terrible conditions to have, there are conversations that need to be had around mental illnesses and disorders, but if these conversations are going to glorify these conditions, then it’s better not to say anything at all. And with more and more people talking about these conditions, throwing around psychiatric terms casually, and ultimately playing the role of psychiatrist on social media platforms is that we raise the concern of the self-fulfilling prophecy. When there is discourse around self-diagnosis and why it’s bad, the most valid argument that can be made is the argument of the self-fulfilling prophecy which is essentially the process of convincing yourself that you have a certain disorder for long enough that you actually develop that disorder. And when the people glorifying these disorders are given a platform, when the people posing as those ‘raising awareness for mental wellbeing’ play the role of psychiatrist on a platform, what ends up occurring is that symptoms are thrown around, the viewer will then realize that they exhibit these symptoms, leading them to diagnose them self with anxiety or depression, etc, etc. What’s difficult about self diagnosis is that symptoms of mental illnesses and other medical issues mimic each other’s symptoms. The symptoms of anemia, hypothyroidism, and depression all mimic each other — so which is it?
To add more fuel to the fire, society has now fallen victim to what Barry Schwartz referred to as ‘the tyranny of choice’, the belief that more choice is better. The overwhelming feeling we get when we’re bombarded by an influx of choice. I spend more time looking for a movie to watch on Netflix than I do actually watching a movie — in fact, I think I rarely end up watching a movie. It’s the contemplation over which choice yields the best outcome — I could pick the one at the top of the list, but what if the one I really want is at the bottom? You have this seemingly infinite selection of content, and you have to decide to pick one. That leads to indecisiveness and dissatisfaction with the choice made — I never know that if my choice to watchRatatouilletoday is the best outcome, there’s endless options out there, maybe another would’ve yielded a better outcome. It’s overthinking, and it’s the dissatisfaction with every outcome. It’s the need and the desire to have options that give us the precise outcome we’re looking for — they’re unattainable standards. It’s the algorithm effect, we need everything to be tailored to us. So, ultimately, I decide not to watchRatatouille,and I keep browsing Netflix’s catalog, and I subsequently make more money for Netflix.
The irony in the publication of this on social media platforms is not lost on me. It’s difficult to isolate each of these issues because they’re all fundamentally intertwined — every factor, every subsection somehow ties into the other, even if they seem unrelated at first glance. The need to perform creates the need to sell, the need to care creates the opportunity of being sold to, the need to care also creates compassion fatigue and the need to perform creates de-personalisation. The viewer generates engagement and the performer generates engagement, engagement can also be generated off of the indecisiveness of the viewer. They’re all issues that are interlinked, they all can be studied and analyzed individually, regardless of their respective connections, but ultimately it’s their connection that makes this issue so dire and so pressing. We are the digitized age. We are the puppeteers to Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk’s puppet show. We are the means of exploitation to the corporation, and we are adverse effects of the digital age.
Social media has made it so that we were aware of how we were all performing all day every day and it taught us to monetize this constant need to perform. In other words, how to profit off of being alive. The small talk you make with your co-worker at the coffee machine is no longer a mundane aspect of your life — it’s capital. And we’re not making the most capital off of this — it’s the companies that own these social media platforms that are. It’s Mark Zuckerberg. It’s Elon Musk. And it’s horrifying. We have all become capital at no fault of our own — we are all constantly performing and being constantly performed to. We are just capital. Unless we are aware of how we are being used as advertisements — of how we are involuntarily giving these corporations more and more money and more and more data to be able to control us — more and more data to figure out how we are like, what we enjoy, what we don’t enjoy — our network of people, who we know, who we like, who we hate, who we can’t make our minds up about, to continue to sell to us and to continue to profit off of us, nothing is ever going to change. Awareness is the only weapon we have on our side right now.
And I recognize how cynical I sound talking about the presence of mental illness online, and I don’t want to be misconstrued and have people think that I’m against conversations about mental health, I think they’re important. I think it’s crucial that we have these conversations because it allows people to actually get the help they need without feeling ashamed, but I strongly dislike conversations centered around the quirkiness of mental illness and conversations that allude to the idea that mental illness is something we should strive to have. I’d rather have no conversations at all than sit back and watch mental illness become a glorified aesthetic and an element people strive to achieve, because at their core, mental illnesses are a medical issue. No one strives to have cancer, so no one should strive to have depression. I am against the painting of mental illness as desirable, and as ‘fun’ to have — it’s not fun to be mentally ill, and struggle with the symptoms that come with it. Mental illness is an ugly thing to have, when artists create art expressing that struggle in a way that is deemed ‘aesthetic’ it should not be misconstruedasaesthetic. The illness itself is not what is beautiful, it’s the way the artist, the creator, the comedian, the writer, and the musician expresses it.
And it’s difficult to go about this and to attempt to propose a solution to solve this problem — or rather, this collection of intertwined problems. These issues are complex and exist on so many different levels, this is only scratching the surface of what it means to be alive in the digital age and be an active user of social media. This is by no way the endocrine of social media, this only serves as a summary of what I believe it is like to exist in the digital age. And even if we manage to create a solution as a people, that solution will ultimately be deemed redundant because these issues are not manufactured by the individual (though the individual does play a role in it), they are systemic. When you examine the bigger picture — a picture in which social media is a portion, most of the world’s problems exist on a systemic level that affects the individual more so than it does the corporation or the company — rendering the individual useless and helpless when faced with these issues. It’s not up to us to fix them, it’s up to the people in charge of these systems which will ultimately do nothing to fix them because they profit off of these systems. They will never inflict change as long as the issue they’re faced with does not affect them and does not pose harm to their corporation. And despite the tone of nihilism that comes with issues like these, I still do believe that it is fundamental that we continue to have conversations about these issues and continue to be aware of them. It’s easy to see a term like ‘compassion fatigue’ and it’s easy to experience it, and decide that we should stop caring and stop conversing. But we still do need to care, but perhaps it’s just more productive to pick a few issues and focus on them at a time rather than attempt to solve every problem ever at the same time. And with these issues what we need to do is to get knowledgeable — consume different sources from all sorts of mediums, books, journals, articles, videos. Become intellectually rich because ultimately, your awareness and intellectuality is all you have left at the moment. It is what sets you apart from the mindless masses. Knowledge is a force and a tool, use it to your advantage.
At its core, all of this is a criticism of corporate and capitalist tendencies to pry on human instinct and human need. There needs to be more conversations over who we as a society allow to have power, whose work and contributions we deem valuable or invaluable. In an ideal world, the general population would be in charge of the media and the distribution of it — we would have a say in who gets platformed and who doesn’t, we would have a say in how we advertise and how we create systems of power. In an ideal world, the creators and the consumers would be the ones in charge, not the Musk’s and the Zuckerberg’s. But it is ultimately the Musks and the Zuckerberg’s that hold the most power over society. They’ve created algorithms which are data-collecting machines — they’re mass surveillance on steroids. So, we are ultimately being watched and ultimately being converted and reduced into single data points on a chart that can later be exploited. But we do need to remember that the success of the Musk’s and Zuckerberg’s is reliant on us — the viewers and the creators. They are not omnipotent nor invincible, if everyone on Twitter decided to boycott it for one day, Elon Musk would basically go out of business. They hold the systemic power, but we hold the communal one — making us equally fundamental to the equation as they are.
Social media has allowed for the exploitation of the evolutionary instinct of performance. It has allowed for the curation of an infinite sea of content creators to compete for an audience and for a platform — for a chance to be given the validation and the attention they so desperately desire. And that desire, the constant strive for success is how social media platforms are able to generate views, likes, comments, shares, follows, etc, etc. and then convert those numbers into monetary and tangible value. That engagement is generated by the content creator that constantly has to post to ensure the success of their careers. And in order to survive in the digital market-space, that content creator must transform into a business, ultimately becoming a brand that must sell themselves to the audience and the viewer. The viewer’s engagement with the platform and with the content is what results in the generating of money for the platform and for the content creator. Additionally, the brand and the corporation — the company with a tangible, physical product has begun the process of humanizing the brand in order to appeal to an audience that values ethics, morality, and the human experience as a whole. And they do this through ’cause marketing’ and ‘funny marketing’, inevitably overshadowing the competitor small businesses on the market. Social media has also resulted in the digitization of the self, creating a plethora of issues, including depersonalization. Our need to care has led to compassion fatigue. Our most basic insecurities have transformed into body dysmorphia and eating disorders. The most simple problems of humanity were taken and made extreme by the digital era. In short, social media exists for the purpose of generating the most income for its shareholders, regardless of whether that generation affects the user or not.
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- Know Your Audience. Before you even begin be very clear about who your audience is and be sure they are engaged in social media. ...
- Set Goals and Expectations. ...
- Remain Connected to Your Target Audience. ...
- Identify Influencers (and Be Generous)
Social media refers to the means of interactions among people in which they create, share, and/or exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks.How social media affects our lives? ›
However, multiple studies have found a strong link between heavy social media and an increased risk for depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-harm, and even suicidal thoughts. Social media may promote negative experiences such as: Inadequacy about your life or appearance.How social media make us more social? ›
Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram allow us to maintain contact with people we may not regularly see in our day-to-day lives. We can catch up with old friends, stay in touch with family members who live far away and connect with people who share our interests and hobbies.What are the 5 C's of social media? ›
The 5 Cs of Social Media provides a framework for social media managers, digital executives and aspiring social media influencers to do just that. The 5 Cs of Social Media -- Coordinates, Channels, Content, Connections, and Corrections -- are interconnected elements used to craft an effective strategy.What are the five C's to what makes social media social? ›
Most of those answers fit into one of the five categories we're going to go over in this post: Content, Community, Conversation, Collaboration, and Conversion. Using the 5 Cs together will ensure you're building the foundation to a solid social strategy.Is social media good or bad for society? ›
Although there are important benefits, social media can also provide platforms for bullying and exclusion, unrealistic expectations about body image and sources of popularity, normalization of risk-taking behaviors, and can be detrimental to mental health.What are the pros and cons of social media? ›
|Pros of Social Media||Cons of Social Media|
|It is a free source of information||It can increase online bullying|
|It can help us make social contacts||It can lead to body image issues|
|It lets people find their subcultural groups||It can be misused to spread misinformation|
Studies have shown that people who spend a lot of time on social media are at least two times more likely to feel socially isolated. Social media use displaces more authentic social experiences because the more time a person spends online, the less time there is for real-world interactions.What are the 5 benefits of social media? ›
- Build relationships. Social media is used for more than just brand-customer interaction. ...
- Share your expertise. You have the chance to talk about what you know and what you want to be recognized for on social media. ...
- Increase your visibility. ...
- Educate yourself. ...
- Connect anytime.
Research shows that the more time people spend on Facebook and Instagram, the more they compare themselves socially. This social comparison is linked, among other things, to lower self-esteem and higher social anxiety.Why is social media so important? ›
What are the benefits of using social media? Billions of people around the world use social media to share information and make connections. On a personal level, social media allows you to communicate with friends and family, learn new things, develop your interests, and be entertained.Why is social media so impactful? ›
One of the most important impacts of social media in today's world lies within its ability to distribute information to the whole world. With most people on some other social media platforms today, no news of importance cools down without proper discussion.Why does social media matter so much? ›
The Benefits of Social Media Presence
Through constant connection with friends and family, individuals are able to foster and maintain lasting friendships much more quickly with minimal effort. Moreover, they're able to share life events and up-to-date information with all the people who matter most to them.
Instead, these organizations should focus on three categories of focus in their social media messaging: appreciation, advocacy, and appeals -- the "three A's." Find out below how you can apply each of the three As in your organization's social posts and updates.What are 4 common features of social media? ›
- Content sharing and virality. ...
- Audience engagement. ...
- Sales and growth. ...
- Lead generation. ...
- Analytics and reporting. ...
- Customer care and communication. ...
- Collab features. ...
- Know your audience.
Today, we're going to talk about the 4 key parts of social media: social listening, social influencing, social networking, and social selling.What are the 6 core components of the social media platform? ›
There are six factors at work with any successful social media platform. Strategy, audience identification, commitment to communicate, allocating resources, establishing an identity and maintaining composure online operate together to lead to social media success.Is social media an addiction? ›
Using social media can lead to physical and psychological addiction because it triggers the brain's reward system to release dopamine, the “feel-good” chemical. Dopamine is actually a neurotransmitter (a chemical messenger between neurons) involved in neurological and physiological functioning.What age group uses social media the most? ›
What age group uses social media the most? According to recent research studying social media usage statistics by age, as of 2023, US adults from 27 to 42 are the biggest users of social media. These are users belonging to the millennial generation, which the study defines as those born between 1981 and 1996.
The more time spent on social media can lead to cyberbullying, social anxiety, depression, and exposure to content that is not age appropriate. Social Media is addicting.Is it good to delete social media? ›
Can quitting social media be one of those changes? Absolutely. Some research suggests that social media is harming us in several ways. But that doesn't mean it's all bad and cutting it off entirely could have both positive and negative effects on your life.What are 3 advantages and 3 disadvantages of social media? ›
|Pros of Social Media||Cons of Social Media|
|Social Media Can Reach Large Audiences||Social Media Causes Sleep Issues|
|Government Benefits from Social Media||Social Media Cause Depression and Loneliness|
|Entertainment with Social Media||Social Media Causes Distraction|
Nearly two-thirds of people — 63 per cent — who spend more than 10 hours a week on social media said they were “angry” about the economy. That compares to 52 per cent of other respondents who don't spend as much time on social media.Does social media change our behavior? ›
How does social media affect behavior negatively? Social media affects behavior negatively by depriving kids of important social cues they would usually learn through in-person communication. This can cause them to be more callous, anxious, and insecure.Is social media making us less happy? ›
Disrupted sleep, lower life satisfaction and poor self-esteem are just a few of the negative mental health consequences that researchers have linked to social media. Somehow the same platforms that can help people feel more connected and knowledgeable also contribute to loneliness and disinformation.What is the biggest advantage of social media? ›
Connectivity is among the most significant benefits of social media. It can link countless users at any time, everywhere. Information could be spread globally through social media and its connectedness, making it simple for people to interact with one another. It results in global relationships.What are some negative effects of social media? ›
- Depression and Anxiety. Do you spend several hours per day browsing through social media? ...
- Cyberbullying. Image Credit: HighwayStarz/Depositphotos. ...
- FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) ...
- Unrealistic Expectations. ...
- Negative Body Image. ...
- Unhealthy Sleep Patterns. ...
- General Addiction.
Send messages, share photos, call, or host video chats to stay in touch. On social media, you can reach out to new connections and start developing relationships with them as well. Whether they live nearby or on the other side of the world, you can easily communicate and share content.What are the common mistakes in social media? ›
- Being on Every Social Media Platform. ...
- Not Using User-Generated Content. ...
- Quantity Over Quality. ...
- Not Engaging With Your Audience. ...
- Not Embracing Feedback (Including Negative Feedback) ...
- Using the Same Content On All Platforms. ...
- Not Working With Influencers. ...
- Ignoring Your Competitors.
These social comparisons can make us feel bad about ourselves and our lives. On top of this, sometimes people can be less considerate when there is a screen separating them from you, meaning you might be more likely to experience criticism or opposition on social media, and this can also contribute to anxiety.Does social media cause insecurity? ›
Negative Impacts of Social Media
Our insecurities increase when we compare ourselves to others on social media networks, like Instagram or Facebook. Influencers and famous people set high and unachievable standards. Moreover, as it connects people with each other, it disconnects them at the same time.
These apps are known to be both damaging to self-esteem and addicting, and usage limits must be set. Social media can be detrimental to self-image. The Norwegian University of Science and Technology found that interacting with another person's Instagram post reliably predicted lowered self-esteem in teenage girls.What is the most harmful social media? ›
Instagram was found to have the most negative overall effect on young people's mental health. The popular photo sharing app negatively impacts body image and sleep, increases bullying and “FOMO” (fear of missing out), and leads to greater feelings of anxiety, depression, and loneliness.What are social media goals? ›
Examples of common social media goals include generating leads, driving traffic to a website or online store, or getting more followers. Social media goals can apply to anything from a single ad or organic post to a full-scale campaign. Social media goals aren't the same thing as your social media strategy.How powerful is social media today? ›
According to Oberlo, as of 2019, there are 3.2 billion social media users all around the world, which is about 42% of the Earth's population. In addition, there are roughly 4.5 billion internet uses across the world today. These statistics are proof of the growing dominance of digital media in our daily lives.Why social media makes life better? ›
Social media helps people strengthen their relationships, create new connections, and find social support in tough times. Nowadays, most of us use social to keep in contact with friends and family. One study found that 93% of adults use Facebook to connect with family while 91% with friends.Has social media changed society for the better? ›
Social media has helped many businesses grow and promote itself, and has helped people find a better way to connect and communicate with one another. On the other hand, it's also provided many people with problems involving mental health, emotional insecurities, and waste of time.Do we really need social media? ›
Social media plays an important role in every student's life. It is often easier and more convenient to access information, provide information and communicate via social media. Tutors and students can be connected to each other and can make good use of these platforms for the benefit of their learning and teaching.What are the 4 aspects of social media? ›
Today, we're going to talk about the 4 key parts of social media: social listening, social influencing, social networking, and social selling. Oftentimes when you hear the term social media, you just think of all the major social networking sites and apps you check daily.
Social media logic is into four main elements: programmability, popularity, connectivity and datafication.What are the three core elements of a social media strategy? ›
Setting the Foundation
The first, foundational components of a social media strategy are: a Social Media Audit, Social Media Goals and Objectives, and the Budget, Tactics, and Tools required to achieve them.
- Step 1: Ask yourself what you want to achieve. ...
- Step 2: Understand the social platforms and your audience. ...
- Step 3: Create your social media content plan. ...
- Step 4: Measure your social media metrics.
Caption. This figure illustrates the five key social media behaviors: (1) broadcast information; (2) receive feedback on this information; (3) observe the broadcasts of others; (4) provide feedback on the broadcasts of others; and (5) compare themselves with others.What are the 4 media effects? ›
These four media-influenced functions are acquiring, triggering, altering, and reinforcing. The first two of these functions influence immediate effects that would show up either during the exposure or immediately after.What are the 3 categories of social media? ›
- Social Networking Sites. These are sites mainly used for connecting with friends and family. ...
- Image-based sites. Image-based types of content have gained more prominence in recent times. ...
- Video sharing/streaming platforms. ...
- Discussion forums. ...
- Blogs and community platforms.
- Available to a broad audience.
- Suitable if you want to communicate local information.
- Has an entertainment function but is also a venue for serious discussions.
- Strong ability for interaction with call-in shows.
What Are the Six Types of Social Media? The types of social media can be broken down in many ways but are most often divided into six categories. They include social networking, bookmarking, social news, media sharing, microblogging, and online forum sites.