Friday, 13 May 2016

Social media: An unequal battle for attention

As you must have probably guessed by now, my vision of social media is quite compassionate and humanistic. So here’s one concern that I have with regard to social media. I am wondering:  is it fair to compete with machines (bots), social marketers, huge media outlets, etc. for the attention of my friends?

Imagine Michelle, a 16 year old girl who is trying to gain confidence in her appearance and become a little more popular in her highschool by posting nice pictures of her vacation to Italy. She might not get as many likes and comments as would be enough to meet her expectations because she didn’t know the most perfect time to post them, she did not have access to professional filters to improve the quality of her pictures and, most importantly, she was competing for the attention of her friends with media, marketers, social media guru’s and all other professional and trained individuals that use metrics and automated posts to cover up all the authentic content, including Michelle’s.

I would dare a comparison: in real life terms,  sending out a message via social media posting is like speaking into a very loud microphone while being in a huge dark forest and then listening to the echo. For the receiver of the message is just like trying to make sense of a concert where you have a few hundred artists performing their own thing around you at the same time. 

Nowadays the only valuable currency in the online world is attention or traffic (this is not my idea, I took it out of a great book I read called Netocracy). The online world has its own rules, rather different from the traditional types of interaction.

One would be that it is not a purely human interaction. I would argue that individuals and machines alike populate the web and compete for attention. This opinion is consistent with the actor network theory developed by Callon and Latour and spanning out of science and technology studies into the social sciences.What they say is that networks should not be seen as purely human (or social) but there should be seen in contact with various "actants", such as machines or other objects. And indeed, think about the plethora of instances when you are asked to prove that you are not a machine.

Another non-traditional trait of social media is that people need to compete for attention with organized professionals, which are basically amalgamations of humans, organized in a hierarchy, which serve a purpose that is commonly profit. These organizations fight for the same attention span that humans and the machines are struggling for. Nevertheless, the scenery is built in such a way that we are led to believe that we are all the same and that we are all authentic. For this reason, machines have email addresses and organizations hide behind an individual or behind the people who share their content. As a result, our daily feeds contain much more professional content that we could ever imagine, and they are all pretending to be authentic. To prove I am right, have a look at your Facebook feed and try to observe how much of the content is professional video, re-shared articles, promotions, adds, news, etc. To be clear, I am not dismissing this content. I find it useful and enriching, but, this has nothing to do with my feed from 5 years back when I could see pictures of my friends or acquaintances all around. Now, this is only a fraction of the feed.

Therefore, if you do not become tech savvy, you risk getting lost under the big pile of professional content. This would not be a bad thing in its own if it were not to have impact on people’s self-esteem, like Michelle’s. For now, we can only guess how things will develop further ...


  1. good point! should we do something about it?

    1. Thank you, darling! Of course we should ... Stay tuned :))