As an older Millennial, I live in cultural limbo. My peer group was the generation that launched social media, the ones who perfected the MySpace mirror selfie, the guinea pigs for an experiment called Facebook.
We are young enough to have grown up with 21st-century technology and have readily woven it into our daily lives. But, as it turns out, we now are also old enough to be using that technology in a way it wasn’t intended, a way that frustrates those younger than us.
This is particularly true of your narrator, who was informed recently that he was not using social media correctly and, in fact, was using it in a manner that was quite rude. You see, if I view a post I like, I will “like” it. This, apparently, is a social faux pas.
Custom dictates that you don’t only reward posts you enjoy, but also every post of people you like. So, if your cousin posts a blurry photo of a beer in a dark bar with the caption “Dranks,” etiquette says you must bestow your blessing upon it despite there already being an excess of blurry images from bars.
This, I’m told, is all in the name of being supportive and non-offensive to the ones you love. No longer must you grin and bear it only during family functions. The internet’s on 24/7, 365, and we’re doomed to a lifetime of politely tossing our seal of approval on every pet photo and mushy anniversary post that comes our way.
The alarming truth was delivered to me by my wife, who is very proper as far as social media goes. She uses Instagram as if she has an incessant nervous tic, scrolling downward with a taptap, taptap, taptap, taptap—her index finger a woodpecker and her screen the tree. That tapping is her “liking” dozens and dozens of posts, likes by the bushel. She, a kind-hearted soul, is the Oprah of likes. Everyone gets one.
I’m told by those who know better that this is how you use social media. Still, I don’t understand it. On social media, we choose what to follow, so our feeds are quite naturally filled with things we like. Odds are we enjoy nearly everything that’s coming across our screens. It stands to reason that perhaps we should be more picky with what we “like” because, otherwise, what’s the use or value of a like? If everyone gets one just for posting, then it means nothing.
I know I sound like one of those sports dads who has an unhealthy phobia of participation trophies and yearns for the days when kids were tough. This is not my intent.
Instead, I want to head off a crisis before it arrives. People seem to think that their actions in the virtual space have no bearing on the real world, that likes and comments are an unlimited resource to be tossed aside without extra thought or consideration. You may be thinking that I’m really uptight about all this: “What’s it matter to you, Anthes? It’s all free.”
Well, yes, on the surface, that’s true. But, in 2018, social media likes are quite literally currency. Corporations, including the Hamilton Post’s parent company, employ people to set social strategy. Simplifying greatly, the essence of the job is to get your likes. And the more likes and follows—engagement is the buzzword—the more prominent the company becomes and the more money it can charge advertisers.
Yes, that’s right—someone (not me) probably made money off you liking this column.
These social media platforms and their advertisers take this a step further by profiling each of us based on our likes. They track it, and use our own information and online behaviors to target us with advertisements. It’s how I wound up with an ad on Facebook for an oddly specific knockoff T-shirt that featured Mickey Mouse wearing a pilgrim hat branded with the Syracuse University athletic logo. That’s scarily accurate to my tastes, but perhaps not all mashed together.
I could easily laugh off that T-shirt, but with “sponsored posts” mimicking ones that come from people and businesses we trust, it’s getting harder and harder to discern what’s an ad and what’s organic. The only way around it is to have greater control of ourselves when we’re online, and to take stock of what we’re liking and why we’re liking it.
This will be easier for some of us than others. I recently approached a colleague here at the Hamilton Post to tell her I enjoyed a tweet she liked. She looked at me blankly, brought up a page of 71,000 tweets, and asked, “Which one?”
Oh, well, nevermind.