Our lives seem to be governed by technology, and social media rules our lives at every turn. The followers we have can amount to our self-worth, while other individuals may judge us based on our following. At the moment, we’re all extremely conscious of how many followers we have, trying to gain more through posting quality content (or even buying them) and being upset when we lose them.
What happens when our online followings have consequences beyond the virtual?
It’s a scary world to imagine, but we may not be too far off it. Will this powerful movement govern our lives in years to come? In China, this phase is already becoming a reality with its invasive new social credit rating system.
In Black Mirror’s eerie episode Nosedive, we are introduced to Lacie Pound. Her life is entirely ruled by a social rating system which defines where she can live, whom she can interact with and what job she can get.
Lacie is obsessed with this rating. Her life focuses on raising her rating by using others to gain points. Each social interaction she’s involved in, she’s aiming to attract a high rating from those she communicates with. Things turn for the worst and eventually she spirals downhill as manipulation, greed, deceit and obsession become demons that Lacie must face. However, she eventually realises that this way of living is just a performance, a façade, or even a hyper-reality.
The eerie part is how similar this episode is to China’s new social credit score system which will rule Chinese citizens’ lives. The Zhima Credit Score is developed by taking and analysing an individual’s social media posts, profiles and followings. Their social circles are able to influence their score as well. Additionally, having certain qualifications, the products they choose to use and buy, the company they work for and the amount of money they make all attribute to the ranking they are given.
It is based purely on an online presence and can result in cheaper prices for high rated individuals, exclusivity to some areas and even health care benefits. In this system, users are given scores between 350 (low) and 950 (high), with benefits becoming more prevalent the better their score is. Perks could include not having to put deposits on a rental car, high class seating in public transport, invitations to special events, all while lower ranking citizens may find them banned from travelling and on no-fly lists. Lower ranking individuals are treated as second class citizens with a connotation of being worthless to their own country.
This idea encourages the isolation of people with lower rankings and scores. It is quickly becoming a hyper neoliberalist state of mind. Online presence is a commodity, perhaps being advantageous for the country’s economic position in the world. Our identities are quickly being defined by social media and the content we post, aggregate and curate.
The question is, can we define someone by the number of followers that they have and the ‘quality’ of their online presence? The worth of someone’s followers has become an extremely contentious topic with online influencers becoming more popular in marketing strategies. The idea of China attempting to utilise its best and brightest influencers in attempt of social Darwinism is a possible way to describe this system.
If we become primarily obsessed with our online selves and begin to craft personas which pertain to the ideal aesthetic, personality and degree of normality, is there any room for individualism? It becomes a neo-liberal society where the powerful are the people with strong online followers and the weak are those with less.
This is biased against the older generation in favour of the younger, and relies on technological advancements in our own communications systems. It is an inherently flawed plan which will create larger gaps between social classes and the way communities interact with each other. It becomes similar to a completely cyberpunk aesthetic in real life where the ghettos and cities are bounds away from each other economically, but reside on each other’s borders directly.
At this point, if these strategies and scoring systems continue to be utilised, we will literally be defined by how many social media followers we have. It will become necessary to hide vulnerabilities, weaknesses and opinions to gain favour with others where survival of the fittest does become a part of our everyday lives. We will have to curate our lives in a way which is fictional and personified to create mistrust within our communities. However, this is occurring now. Graduates are curating their online profiles to gain favour with employers, disregarding their unique traits for favourable ones. This may be the start of a self-branding generation where even our identities become a commodity.
The reason I’m so against this idea is because I only have 397 followers on my Instagram (@krisesandchrosses– shameless plug) and I know I don’t deserve to be defined by the number of followers I have. Will we really become defined by such trivial things?