Now you’d be forgiven in thinking that this was yet another post about the appalling service The MTA received at the hands of Trinity College London – but you’d be wrong. The validation that I’d like to ponder on today is the validation that we’re being encouraged to seek online.
It’s a topic that I used to regularly chat with my students about as it’s something that concerns me quite a bit. Today’s blog was prodded by reading a disagreement online and the stinger retort was something along the lines of “what do I care about you and your X amount of followers”. This was posted by somebody with thousands of followers as if to suggest that an opinion holds no value anymore unless you have a “group” to back you up.
It’s the equivalent of the popular group in the school playground bullying the loner because their innate superiority is gifted to them by the sycophants surrounding them. Of course in the playground it’s slightly worse, as invariably many of the sycophants are actually terrified of being attacked by the “leader” themselves, and so will do and say anything just to stay on their side.
However, the premise is still the same. The thread that I was reading was extremely reasonable, and as is often the case, it was just somebody questioning a particular narrative. Instead of leaving it, or agreeing to disagree, the final insult was this notion that without followers your opinion is worthless.
Quick disclaimer here: I’m aware that a zero follower count can often be a sign of a troll or what many people call a “sock account”. This is an account solely opened with anonymity to throw insults around online. However, in this case, it was clearly just somebody who didn’t have many followers, it’s really not hard to click on the name of the person that you’re about to insult just to check that it’s a real person.
We also have the issue of people with thousands of followers being automatically believed. Validated social media accounts (those with a blue tick) with countless followers, you’d think would have a responsibility of care to post facts only. Nothing could be further than the truth of course as they are invariably just written by “influencers” (aka celebrities) who are like the rest of us, sharing an opinion online. What makes them a little bit more dangerous though is the fact that many of their followers will automatically just believe what they’ve written to be fact. It’s like the Daily Mail readers – they never stop to think that they might have just read a lie. I mean, it might have been a well-meaning lie, but a lie nevertheless.
Always interesting to observe which of the big hitters desperately need that dopamine hit of a like or an “I love you” comment too. Their public persona is often really ballsy – you know the type, a massively diluted Katie Hopkins with tame, but strong opinions that their followers hang onto. Cue the same group of followers telling them that they’re amazing, or that “they really needed to hear that today”, or whatever. . .and you get a sense of the “celeb” also needing that validation from a stranger. In fact, some of them go out of their way to promote that sort of response. Of course, when it comes to established “stars” it’s just classic “fan” territory. These people feel like they’re getting to know their “celeb mate” via their posts and pictures. So maybe those occasions are a win/win for all parties?
I suspect that the only thing that all these people have in common is that when somebody annoys them, they tell the other person to #bekind.
So why do so many people base their validation on likes? For sure some of the influencer-type people will be attempting to play into a persona, so will consciously only be putting out the posts that their followers want to see. Some of the more vacuous influencers aren’t stupid – they will never put out a controversial opinion, they’ll stick to their lifestyle and aspirations. So . . . not so vacuous after all, in fact, quite the opposite, very business savvy.
Why does it matter to the rest of us? Very often we’re putting over a false reality – look at me eating in a posh restaurant, look at me with my new clothes, look at my clever friends. We’re basically painting an online picture of the life that we’d like people to think that we live every day. I will forever be bemused by the couples on a date that will simply post pictures of themselves, or their food, or whatever. Why not just put your phone down and live in that moment? Why do you have to demonstrate to the world that this is your life?
I mean by the same token I also question myself sometimes when I pop online to put some daft post up about what’s going on in my life. Like who really cares if my children have said something silly today, or if I’ve read something that’s annoyed me? I’m definitely playing to my audience or at least the people that I know in real life that are following me. It’s just my way of catching up with everybody without having to send loads of text messages. It’s rare for me to put up a sad post, but that’s a personal preference as I’m also aware that there are lots of people that could access it that I don’t know, and I wouldn’t choose to disclose my life in its entirety with the world.
Many people now use their social media like their own online photo album, recording everything in the cloud, so that one day those memories get churned out via an AI to remind them of the great time they had a year ago. I mean that’s harmless, right? Well yes. . . unless at some point you’re checking back through the posts to see how many likes you got and who liked it. At that point maybe you should clock that you’re looking for external validation, as that stuff shouldn’t really matter. Post for you.
I spoke to somebody that was devastated because a selfie that they had posted (complete with obligatory filter. . . as god forbid you can just be authentically you anymore) had not received the love that they had expected it to. Like it had really played with their mental health. Now how can that be healthy?
I love the start of the Diary of a CEO podcast when Steven Bartlett says that he hopes that nobody is listening. Now that’s authentic social media isn’t it – just doing it for you, and maybe, just maybe other people will join you on your journey. In a way, it’s how I view these blogs. I write them because I really enjoy writing, I have no expectation that anybody will care what I’m saying, but I also value the conversation that they might promote.
So to all those people out there with no followers who are just happily scrolling as opposed to actively trying to find followers – knock yourselves out, and know that your opinion is of value, regardless of what the “cool gang” are saying. If your selfie doesn’t get the love that you think it deserves, it doesn’t matter. The only person that can fully validate you . . . is the person looking back at you in the mirror.