Black Mirror – Nose Dive
British anthology show Black Mirror – pictured above and now available on Netflix – examines the dark side of technology today. And it’s phenomenal, a sort of Twilight Zone for the smartphone era.
While each hour-long episode is thought-provoking and unsettling in its own way, perhaps none has provided the gut-punch of the Season 3 premiere, entitled “Nose Dive.”
The episode is set in a future where your social media reputation functions as your credit score and is tabulated continuously by others’ reactions to you throughout the day.
It has led to a societal level of fakeness– where everyone maintains cheery smiles and service all the time, constantly aware that they are being publicly judged in every interaction.
In this world, your crowd-sourced popularity score – on a 5.0 scale – determines everything from your mortgage rates, to promotion potential to whether you qualify to board a plane, rent a car, ride in a taxi, or even keep your job.
In our real world, where some are obsessed with their social media engagement numbers – the number of likes or comments their Instagram, YouTube or Facebook posts receive – the question Black Mirror’s “Nose Dive” asks us is:
Does your social media footprint matter in the real world?
The Real World
Clearly the answer *should* be no.
But already there are instances where this is not the case.
Recruiters check not only prospective employees’ LinkedIn pages but also their Facebook accounts for evidence of social savvy (the right hobbies) and red flags.
Prospective dates Google each other before committing to meeting again (a fact How I Met Your Mother skewered years ago in episodes like “The Playbook” and “Mystery vs. History”).
But to me, the biggest change has occurred in the professional realm, where creatives – actors, singers, authors, comedians, even athletes – are expected to have achieved a certain level of social media fame or built their followings before they are signed, their social media fame a proxy for their bankability or worth.
In this way, digital footprints and social media followings already have real-world consequences.
But the results can be even more subtle: I’ve seen candidates not offered positions because of lack of LinkedIn connections (a proxy for your professional network) relative to the other finalists. I also know people who, because of their robust followings on LinkedIn and Twitter, were offered regular columns with publications like Fast Company, The Huffington Post and Inc.
Peeple – “Yelp for People”
Lest you still think the dystopian vision portrayed by Black Mirror remains securely in the realm of science fiction, a company tried to launch just such an app earlier this year, with Peeple – billed as the “Yelp for people.”
The idea exactly paralleled the Black Mirror episode, as the platform allows for folks to rate their friends, enemies, etc.
The app was first announced in September 2015. Luckily, the public backlash against its very concept was so strong that the creators opted only to launch a watered-down version in March 2016. While it still exists, Peeple is opt-in only (users must consent to be rated) and can hide negative feedback or ratings.
It has yet to receive much traction.
This is easily explained on three counts:
- Many are simply against the concept of rating others.
- Unless or until Peeple instituted a real-name policy (a la Facebook) it’s far too susceptible to manipulation by anonymous users with an axe to grind (or friend to boost).
- It’s a sad truth of human nature that people are far more likely to act when they are angry or disappointed than when they are happy. Ex. People rarely write their Congressional rep or Senator when they are happy or pleased with their actions. Likewise, apps like “Rate My Professor” almost always skew negative.
“I’d never belong to a club that would have me as member” – Groucho Marx
Credit card companies and insurance companies have long rated people along a spectrum of risk factors. Even colleges and universities use numerical assessment to judge candidates for admission across a spectrum of criteria.
Like it or not, however, we are moving in the direction where a person’s digital footprint has real-world consequences.
For the last several years it’s been standard practice among recruiters for large companies to review candidates’ Facebook and other public social media accounts for evidence of fit.
But the more recent change has been in how the proliferation of social media channels has given rise to an entire new class of celebrities.
The problem is how it’s changed things like the book publishing industry.
Want to publish a book?
Better have your social media following already in place.
Are you a reporter?
Prepare to spend a significant portion of your day promoting your articles via Twitter – ensuring they get clicks.
On the one hand, these new social channels have dropped the barriers to entry significantly.
On the other, because the barriers are now so low, there is a huge crush of content out there competing for attention.
Just to have a chance of breaking through requires enormous dedication and discipline.
3 Reasons Your Social Media Footprint Matters
1. Social Proof
We are known by the company we keep.
Whether you’re vying for a new job or even a date, our reputation precedes us. For good or ill, what prospective employers or social partners discover about us online plays into their initial impression. And could lead them to pursuing us with enthusiasm or, alternatively, opting against us.
2. Fan Base
As noted above, there are certain creative professions that require a robust social media following before one is even allowed to “break in.”
These include: acting, writing, comedy, music, journalism, photography, and more.
Recall that Justin Bieber owes his fame to YouTube videos initially recorded in his basement.
As much as I would like to deny it, social media stars yield true influence.
Despite its recent woes, the best advertisement I can imagine for Twitter has been this election season — Trump has made news via his tweets and that platform was mentioned during all three presidential debates.
DJ Khaled owes his career to Snapchat.
The FTC recently cracked down on sponsored social media posts because these are essentially stealth ads.
Each of those examples demonstrates that amassing large and engaged fan bases on social media can translate to tangible influence.