Are social media fakers becoming a severe issue?
In the wake of techlash, people are frustrated about social media fakers.
Many complain that ordinary people in their feeds are simply trying too hard. Many complain that influencers are too desperate for likes, clicks, and shares.
And amongst the complainers, I sense unconscious envy lurking in the shadows. We all crave attention and recognition, but most get none.
What’s going on?
Get Famous Online — Or Die Trying
Admit it. You follow someone on social media with a picture-perfect lifestyle but suspect they’re just faking it.
It used to be lifestyle influencers putting on a dazzling show for their followers, but now it’s your neighbour, co-worker, and old classmate.
“If you experience negative emotions, just unfollow them,” I say.
But it’s often not that simple. We live in an attention economy of likes where it isn’t easy to separate your online network from the physical world. The lines are blurred.
“People want to be loved; failing that admired; failing that feared; failing that hated and despised. They want to evoke some sort of sentiment. The soul shudders before oblivion and seeks connection at any price.”
— Hjalmar Söderberg (1869−1941), Swedish author
Social Group Dynamics
Unfollowing someone, blocking someone, or even forgetting to like a friend’s Instagram picture may cause social discomfort. We get pulled into this world of social media fakers.
How did we end up here? And will we ever get out of it?
Typical Social Group Sizes
How many social connections you you comfortably sustain? According to the social brain hypothesis, limits exist. 1Zhou WX, Sornette D, Hill RA, Dunbar RI. Discrete hierarchical organization of social group sizes. Proc Biol Sci. 2005 Feb 22;272(1561):439 – 44.
“The ‘social brain hypothesis’ for the evolution of large brains in primates has led to evidence for the coevolution of neocortical size and social group sizes, suggesting that there is a cognitive constraint on group size that depends, in some way, on the volume of neural material available for processing and synthesizing information on social relationships.”
Source: Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 2Zhou, X., Sornette, D., Hill, R. A., & M. Dunbar, R. I. (2005). Discrete hierarchical organization of social group sizes. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 272(1561), … Continue reading
Scientific evidence suggests that people tend to organise themselves not in an even distribution of group sizes but in discrete hierarchical social groups of more particular sizes:
Alas, there seems to be a discrete statistical order in the complex chaos of human relationships:
“Such discrete scale invariance could be related to that identified in signatures of herding behaviour in financial markets and might reflect a hierarchical processing of social nearness by human brains.“
Source: Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 3Zhou, X., Sornette, D., Hill, R. A., & M. Dunbar, R. I. (2005). Discrete hierarchical organization of social group sizes. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 272(1561), … Continue reading
Read also: Group Sizes (The Social Brain Hypothesis)
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The First “Reality Stars”
A group of chosen not-yet-celebs participated in a contest set on a Malaysian island. One after the other, people got voted off the show.
The Swedish mainstream audience devoured the show, partly because of the palm trees and the beaches but mainly because “ordinary people” were running around half-naked with low blood sugar.
In the dark of a long Swedish winter, the show was exotic.
And it became a media phenomenon.
A fierce love-and-hate relationship with these new reality stars emerged. The audience genuinely loved some characters just as much as they hated others. And that passionate engagement caused severe issues for those reality stars who failed to become loved. 4The situation worsened as the first person to be voted off the island, Sinisa Savija, committed suicide, forcing SVT and the production company to re-cut the rest of the programs to lessen the … Continue reading
Many early “reality stars” found the public hate so unbearable they lashed out against the production company:
“I’m a human being with many sides,” they cried. “Why portray me as a monster?”
The First Class of Professional Social Media Fakers
Fast forward from 1997 to 2016.
Today, reality stars understand how the game is supposed to be played. They want to be edited as dramatic characters.
Internationally, the Kardashian family must be considered the reigning masters of massive social media spin. Authenticity is less critical than making the performance feel authentic. It’s the online equivalent of “suspension of disbelief.”
In Sweden, we still turn to reality television shows like Paradise Hotel. Because they put on a show, participants quickly acquire substantial social media followings and tons of tabloid attention.
The new breed of reality stars understands that they must deliver drama and that the format doesn’t exist to serve their multi-faceted need for human expression. The unspoken agreement is straightforward: treat the audience to a show, and they’ll grant you stardom.
In short: It’s social media show business.
Today, the mainstream audience understands the reality of reality television. But we’re not there yet when it comes to social media.
New Media Adoption Takes Decades
How long did it take for the mainstream audience to fully accept reality television’s media logic?
By my count, the process in Sweden took 19 years (1997 – 2016). That’s nearly two decades to grow accustomed to a specific media phenomenon (that never was a secret).
The process follows the principles as outlined in the law of diffusion of innovation:
Compared to reality television, social media is far more complex. And it has changed the fabric of human interconnection in a way that reality television never did.
How long will it take the mainstream audience to come to terms with the inherent media logic of social media?
Will two decades suffice? Or will digital media keep progressing and never allow us to catch up?
“In Real Life” and Reality
In the early days of the Hippie Web (2005 – 2015), IRL — In Real Life— became a popular expression. It accentuated the distinction between online realities and the physical world.
But as early as 2006 – 2007, many began to question the IRL expression. “Our online lives are as real as our physical reality, so we should talk about AFK — Away From Keyboard — instead.”
Unfortunately, they were wrong.
Social media is many things, but unequivocally real isn’t one of them. It only feels real.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with only showcasing one particular side of something. It’s not wrong to entertain an audience. It’s not wrong to tell incredible stories and to create cultural expressions through art.
But we’re all still learning how to deal with social media.
We still have tons of social media issues to manage.
We’re not all social media naturals yet.
It took two decades for the mainstream audience to learn that reality television isn’t real. And it will probably take the mainstream audience at least two decades to learn that social media isn’t real — probably longer.
Social Media Fakers and Online Wannabeism
If you want to show off the parts of your life that are beautiful and picture-perfect, then by all means — go ahead. If you want to put on a show for your followers, it’s your prerogative.
But we would all be wise to remember that social media isn’t real:
Social media fakeness can cause stress and mental health problems for both the content creator and the follower.
Read also: “I’m Quitting Social Media”
There have been many conversations lately about the “fakeness” of social media. One example is how Essena O’Neill, a young Australian Instagram influencer, publicly ranted about her (and everybody else’s) fakeness on social media. “I quit,” she said and deleted her Instagram and YouTube accounts — only to use the extra attention to launch her next online enterprise.
If nothing else, we should remember that social media has existed for two decades. We might be at the tail end of the adoption curve. While not everyone has been caught up, more people are coming to terms with today’s media logic.
Beware of Social Media Desperation
Younger generations are already calling out “boomers,” “simps,” and “weird flex.” “Cringe” might be on sale, but they’re not buying.
Today, we must expect a significant portion of the audience to be asking cynical questions like:
A word of caution:
Anyone too thirsty for attention and validation through social media risks becoming a pariah. Instead of promoting an élite class, the mainstream might equate desperation with weakness and shove them to the bottom of the status ladder.
“A status update with no likes (or a clever tweet without retweets) becomes the equivalent of a joke met with silence. It must be rethought and rewritten. And so we don’t show our true selves online, but a mask designed to conform to the opinions of those around us.”
— Neil Strauss, Wall Street Journal
PR Resource: Media Logic
Media Logic: Never Trust the News
Media logic is a rhetorical approach to PR.
Contrary to popular belief, media logic is not one single theory. Instead, it’s a collection of theories about how the medium and its context influence mediated messages.
“The dominant processes, established routines, and standardized formats which frame and shape the production of mass-media content, especially its representation or construction of reality, and its manufacture of news. Media logic intersects with commercial logic and political logic — confluences associated with such phenomena as tabloidization and the mediatization of politics. Media logic exists wherever mediation exists. It contributes to the shaping of social order in modern post-industrial cultures.“
Source: A Dictionary of Media and Communication
“Media logic is defined as a form of communication, and the process through which media transmit and communicate information. The logic and guidelines become taken for granted, often institutionalized, and inform social interaction. A basic principle is that media, information technologies, and communication formats can affect events and social activities.“
Source: The International Encyclopedia of Political Communication 5Altheide, D. L. (2016). Media Logic. The International Encyclopedia of Political Communication, 1 – 6. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118541555.wbiepc088
“The position and size of articles on the front page is determined by interest and importance, not content. Unrelated reports […] are juxtaposed; time and space are destroyed and the here and now are presented as a single Gestalt. […] Such a format lends itself to simultaneity, not chronology or lineality. Items abstracted from a total situation are not arranged in causal sequence, but presented in association, as raw experience.“
Source: The new languages (1956) 6Carpenter, E. & McLuhan, M. (1956) The new languages. Chicago Review. 10(1) pp. 46 – 52.
“[…] each communication channel codifies reality differently and thereby influences, to a surprising degree, the content of the message communicated.”
Source: The new languages (1956) 7Carpenter, E. & McLuhan, M. (1956) The new languages. Chicago Review. 10(1) pp. 46 – 52.
As a result of media logic, the general portrayal of events, concepts, and ideas in the news media will be skewed:
Learn more: Media Logic is Dead, Long Live Media Logic
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|Zhou WX, Sornette D, Hill RA, Dunbar RI. Discrete hierarchical organization of social group sizes. Proc Biol Sci. 2005 Feb 22;272(1561):439 – 44.|
|Zhou, X., Sornette, D., Hill, R. A., & M. Dunbar, R. I. (2005). Discrete hierarchical organization of social group sizes. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 272(1561), 439 – 444. https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2004.2970|
|The situation worsened as the first person to be voted off the island, Sinisa Savija, committed suicide, forcing SVT and the production company to re-cut the rest of the programs to lessen the drama.|
|Altheide, D. L. (2016). Media Logic. The International Encyclopedia of Political Communication, 1 – 6. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118541555.wbiepc088|
|Carpenter, E. & McLuhan, M. (1956) The new languages. Chicago Review. 10(1) pp. 46 – 52.|