User or Used?
We fear death and loneliness
However once we’ve guaranteed our way to physically survive, we also become bounded our desire to be emotionally and mentally healthy. Our well being depends on a sense of safety, on a space that is shared between different people who are interconnected mostly by a sense of belonging.
“Communication is a basic feature of all societies and all human activity. We cannot live and survive without communication. Just like we cannot survive without food and water. Communication takes place routinely in everyday life.” (Fuchs, 2014, p. 5)
Both the purpose and the object of our sharing vary. The transfer ability of our objects, ideas, news, norms and so on with the people around us can be to educate, share expertise, advertise, and even to invest in people for future need, but most importantly it serves the purpose of create a social capital. The latter is mainly to invest through connections, i.e. to create assets through trusting and cooperating with people within your society, which creates a relationship that “encourages bargaining, compromise, and pluralistic politics.”
Similarly, as its name indicates, social media thrives mostly on our need to share. It creates a platform for information and news about yourself and your surroundings. It has become one of the most common ways for interaction and an important part in most people’s lives, mostly acclaim for the positive effects it has on educating, our sense of community, in creating trust, and sharing norms etc. However, social media can also be used manipulated in ways that don’t always have a positive impact. Its ability to only highlight the parts of image that we want perceived ultimately pushes us to censor ourselves, but only sharing and performing what we think will be accepted. So one can post things that they don’t agree with in order to impress specific people that grant us their approval through likes and shares. Or one can delete a tweet out of fear that its low number of retweets might ruin our image of popularity. Our performative ritual almost becomes a competition between different users. In that sense social media fails to bring people together, and creates instead more boundaries and more alienation.
The image we build of ourselves on social media isn’t only credible to ourselves as users but also to our labor. Future employers can hire or fire you based on your account. We can look at a USJ intern for example, who got suspended after joking about her job giving her enough power to kill babies.
Even university classes and assignments require their students to keep an account. People without social media are not only considered as outcasts, but it is becoming harder and harder for them to keep up. “Social integration is equated with connecting and sharing, therefore ‘quitting’ a social media platform is likened to ending a relationship. The ability to communicate, to share with others, will be incomprehensibly lost if you leave — though your data remains intact should you choose to come back(Kennedy, 2012 p.131)
At this rate, many examples, including this one, can highlight how dependent we’ve become of social media.
“Consider how lost a typical teenager is without a mobile phone or access to SNSs like Facebook. For many young people today, even the idea of being without their phone or social media for a day causes great distress. This dependency makes us all more subject to the control mechanisms of information society; to be counted, sorted, and organized into groups that can be matched with products and processed as fast as materials and services can be produced and distributed.” ( HJORTH & Hinton, 2013, p.24)
However that isn’t what most SNS, According to Kennedy in Rhetorics of Sharing: Data, Imagination, and Desire“Social media platforms explicitly and strategically position sharing within a culture of participation, they position themselves as enabling this sharing for the purpose of community development, engagement, and creativity. (132)” (Kennedy, 2012, p.132) stand for, Facebook for example, claims that its mission is to “Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” However Facebook algorithms can be quite coercive and restricted thus creating communities that are deprived of any organic structure. In fact the posts that appear on our timelines are not randomly selected, but are the result of very close observation to our interests, and surroundings.
Social media produces algorithms by collecting our data. Therefore our journey on these platforms are recorded not just for the purpose of customizing our news feed but also to allow profit by selling this information to advertisement companies and corporations. Facebook thus introduced the unfollow button, which removes any potential annoyance from your feed without narrowing your friend’s list. Your data can thus keep expanding, which gives rise to more profit.
“Social media platforms, in particular, utilize these discourses of sharing too obscure a proprietary control of data and labor such that sharing is used as a rhetorical neutralizer between those that generate data in providing content to social media platforms (users), those that ‘own’ such data (platforms), and those that access and make use of it (advertisers and data handlers)(Kennedy, 2012, p.135)”
The fast accessibility SNS offers us to share information can allow a personal post of going viral within a single day. This raises another issue that i find problematic; Shouldn’t our posts be treated as intellectual property. By denying our posts copyrights we not only undermine it as an important part of our lives, but it also discredits it as a source of information.What makes a post different than a song, or a video especially since we have been seeing how credible one’s profile is being considered.
“By emphasizing the social affordances of the platform (helping you to ‘connect’, ‘keep up’, and ‘view the world through each other’s eyes’), the politics of data handling, ownership, and monetization are hidden from view. Sharing is (after all) political.The ‘sharing’ is troubled by the statement of ‘property’ upon which intense debates persist. To some sharing is a litigious term synonymous with ‘stealing’, to others it is its imprecise and inappropriate association to tangibility that is the issue” (Kennedy, 2012, p.134)
Yes one can’t deny the benefits of sharing, and one also can’t deny that the “virtual world” won’t be subject to an end soon, and has become needed and necessary to most people. However corporations are taking advantage of the information we disclose on our accounts, which makes our usage of social media a lot more complex than a platform with free access. Once social media becomes a guaranteed way to generate profit, we cannot completely separate ourselves from the labor of production, which raises the question: Is social media also another case of free labor?
Fuchs (2014) ‘What is Social media’ in Social Media: A Critical Introduction, London, Sage, 1–11.
Hjorth, L., & Hinton, S. (2013). Understanding Social Media. SAGE, 7–31.
Kennedy, J. (2012). Rhetorics of Sharing: Data, Imagination, and Desire.127–134.