Behind the Bandwagon Culture of Social Media
In an age where Facebook (and Facebook-owned platforms like Instagram), Youtube and Twitter quite literally own every inch of social media, it should come as no surprise that, at least psychoanalytically speaking, people both on and offline can perform more like account holders than real people.
By this, I mean that the permeation of social media has permanently shaped general interaction into something highly stylised and somewhat performative. This is not to make the overused baby boomer argument that today’s youth has become tainted, complacent, and warped by the super information highway, and that easily Googlable content is a scourge on the inquisitive and entrepreneurial spirit. Not at all. I am merely making an observation on the pervasive nature of social platforms, and how every aspect of social media usage inevitably seeps off the screen and interjects itself into the cultural lexicon of our lives. We have become accustomed to speaking in memes, the recitation of a nostalgic vine is now the benchmark of true friendship, and a mildly relatable tweet from a seemingly cool account on Twitter that gets over ten thousand re-tweets is The Official Opinion of millennials/ Generation Z kids for the week. Until another mildly relatable tweet from a seemingly cool account on Twitter overtakes it.
To reiterate, I am not condemning social media.
In fact, I rebuke the notion that easily accessible platforms of information and social interaction are more detrimental than beneficial. The attainment of information and education, the ease of instant messaging and global distribution, as well as the general joy of being able to access almost any piece of content or material on a small, portable device are just some of the things that necessitate the way we exist today as the world operates now more efficiently than it has ever before.
But what comes as a consequence of the immediacy of mass social online interaction is that, incrementally, a culture of almost mob-like behaviour begins to form, one that serves to inform the common understanding and re-shape what is normative. It creates for the online user a new convention, a new set of rules by which they must abide. If someone is unaware of the specific content of this week’s cycle of memes they are out of the loop if they have an opinion that discords with ~ that tweet ~ on everyone’s timeline with over 400k retweets their opinion is invalidated and they are, simply, wrong.
It is a dangerous bandwagon of behaviours, the toxicity that permeates platforms like Twitter in a way that has frightening implications for how people inform themselves and select what informs them. Instead of analytically observing evidence and premises that lead to the most factual or reasonable conclusion, ideas and opinions become a popularity game. This has manifested itself in various different ways, most notably what is commonly referred to as Cancel Culture, a trend that tends to be increasingly dominated and driven by numbers than by validity or justification.
[I think it is generally clear, however, to most people that figures like R Kelly, Harvey Weinstein and Chris Brown etc are permanently cancelled. I feel it is important to state that as open-minded as I am, I accept no alternative to the absolute cancellation of paedophiles, rapists and abusers. And neither should you.]
Of course, there is a particular element of user accounts that must be considered here. Social media is what people make of it. It is a neutral tool like any other, that creates consequences as a result of how it is wielded by the individual. However, there are external elements that must also be factored in. Social media corporations are not benign, innocuous franchises that exist solely for the good of information, distribution and accessibility. They are corporations and brands that in all their capitalist glory perpetually seek their bottom line. They increasingly commodify and commercialise the platforms that provide the framework for our very lives, they have been proven to inject the selected content of the highest payer onto our feeds so that we may subconsciously absorb it, and they are most probably behind a plethora of nefarious under-dealings that a black site US intelligence agency would never allow me to expose.
[Please refer to the recently popularised #10YearsChallenge trend, wherein you upload a picture of yourself ten years ago beside one from now, that one Twitter user stated could be the basis of the development of a more advanced facial recognition software. Conspiratorial, yes. Unlikely? Perhaps. But not outside the realm of possibility, technically.]
Call me conspiratorial, but it does not seem utterly unreasonable to presume that there are moneyed and agenda-driven interests behind what our generation collectivises as a convention. Our norm. Just like any brand would want to authenticate themselves by appealing to our interests, social media platforms and the corporations that own them actively shape and direct the ebb and flow of discourse and interaction that exists among us to better understand users and keep us live on their sites. Not to mention how they use the data we willingly hand over at our discretion.
Our generation needs to be mindful of what we consume and how we consume it. We need to understand that we can accumulate information outside of Twitter, and our opinions need not be isolated if they do not accord with those of everyone that has retweeted the same tweet on our timelines. We also need to be acutely aware of how social media companies distribute their information. Who actually understands the fabled and elusive Youtube algorithm that recommends to us what we should watch? On what information does it base its analysis? How does it procure such information? What ads does Instagram push and why? Is Facebook still propagating the ‘fake news’ of its highest-paying customers and facilitating the mass consumption of falsified information?
We need to be aware of how these corporations cater to our culture, so that the number of retweets on that Seemingly Cool account only increase, which means user traffic only increases that means profit only increases until eventually, the bandwagon becomes an armoured tank with blackened visors.
The corporations become impenetrable, and the users become both metaphorically and somewhat literally blind to it all.