On The Contrary: The Woes of Social Media Part Deux: Follow the “Leader”

-Written by Evan Hackler

Ladies and Gentle Men,

What a time to be alive.  I am literally sitting by candlelight, face aglow like a jack-o-lantern and hair flowing in the mechanically induced breeze from an industrial fan I was loaned, [akin to fans from “Pumping Iron” at Gold’s Gym Venice] thinking to myself, “Thank God it is only 80 degrees outside.” For some reason or other, when I think of slightly less than desirable living conditions or briefly experience them, I think of those small African children in the commercials.  The same person, for the last 27 some odd years, enters the scene, always with an eerily similar outfit and beard length, white like the back of a skunk, picks up one of the children and tells me for only 37.5 cents a day [I don’t know how that’s possible either] I can ensure this child has clean water, an education, free SAT prep and a privately subsidized Amazon Prime membership.  The same rotation of children is used and they apparently also do not age.  I, in this moment, feel complete empathy for the poor interns stuck in an endeavor that does not receive enough funding to replace their “a hair” out of date marketing campaign once every 25 years.  I now pat myself on the back, having rid my post of its one substantial digression I allot myself.

Social media, where we left it, stood a massive self-governing body most of us were acclimated to in high school – an acclimation we gladly accepted because Facebook and Myspace (RIP) afforded us an ever appealing mode of procrastination.  We learned a great deal from the seemingly symbiotic relationship.  Students learned the hot-key “alt+tab”, which was of course used to seamlessly transition from Facebook or Myspace to a “stock” word document, with the intention of duping teachers into thinking the medieval firewall was successful in keeping out distractions and schoolwork was being completed in the pursuit of knowledge.  We learned to record every social activity we ever engaged in, including those epic couch photos at civil social gatherings, where twenty or so fine young men and women made a life or death attempt to squeeze into frame – always resulting in a quite hilarious contorting of the human species, unaware there was plenty of clearance to just sit normally.  Students learned how to troll before that term became a fixture in the e-community.  We were taught to judge a book by its cover and that appearance was paramount to all other qualities in life.  Vanity, I proposed, was a long established and oft-relished concept that reached new heights with the advent of social media websites.  When the likes poured in, life was good and one felt accomplished – with each new friend request, a splash of self importance penetrated the canvas of that individual’s subconscious.  Everyone was “high” on some sort of life, whether real or “electronic.” Which one was it? Are the two mutually exclusive? Does that even matter?

Undoubtedly intellectually gifted, coding entrepreneurs went from being mall movie theatre DDR [Dance Dance Revolution] champions to founding new networks for us to play on as our hourglass sand traveled south: Twitter, Instagram, Four Square [Also RIP], etc.

We aged as well, and as history repeats itself, we entered the workforce, amidst a social media presence more prominent than Steven A.  Smith’s receding hairline.

This brings us to the far right circle of the Venn diagram I discussed.  Here resides a largely suspect group of individuals who use social media for personal satisfaction and image augmentation, as well as to advance the “business interests” of the companies they are involved with.  The people who took long baths in the comforting water of these websites in high school and college, I’ll argue, obtained a method of thinking and interacting online that has undoubtedly followed their scent into the business sector, thereby creating a figurative estuary filled with habits emanating from both sides of the coin that represents business and pleasure – the lines of which were previously demarcated and distinguishable.  The convergence of the two realms present real problems for businesses, especially small businesses, attempting to conquer the stronghold of an effective social media presence [Fact: no one actually knows what this is].  That being said, I do firmly believe that individuals can be largely unaware that certain tendencies, when practiced on these e-platforms, can be largely self-destructive and run counter to cultivating a productive and well-received business or brand.  However, I concede, this is not brain surgery – although I am unsure whether Ben Carson would fare much better, and it should be common sense that engaging in such nefarious endeavors is not going to win you the Nobel Peace Price…. unless of course you are Henry Kissinger, silently trolling adversaries for forty some odd years, post Vietnam. One of these habits I eschew is rooted in one’s obsession with self-importance [Vanity…again], perpetuated by much of the Instagram and Twitter landscape. The well-known, seemingly furtive, but rarely unnoticed practice of the “Follow/Unfollow” is a global e-pedemic that, when properly scoped, makes the Black Plague look a circulation of the common cold in a kindergarten classroom.          

            Somewhere in the rapid development of the Instagram and Twitter user base – an obsession developed with a ratio -- a ratio of one’s followers to those followed. Now, anyone who is anyone, with any semblance of import whatsoever, will have many, many more “followers” than “followed”. It is, after all, how leadership, quality of product, and influence is measured this day in age. Whatever despair filled, superficial and self-righteous cauldron this ideology was brewed in, I will explore – you need not worry. For now, I draw your attention to the action itself and the means by which it is so easily perpetuated, every second of every minute of every hour, to the “nth” degree. I’d venture to guess at some point in time, most people have fulfilled the role of perpetrator, but it is when small businesses and organizations drink the punch and follow suit, that real problems arise – for all.

            This activity at face value is rather comical, when the same trends are spotted over and over and over again, to a point of absurdity. I have a separate Instagram for my side business, artistic in nature, and have acquired a number of dedicated followers and appreciators [many of whom are small businesses or sole proprietors]– thanks all! However, I have also encountered the accounts of mental terrorists, connected, whether beknownst or not, to some off brand internet version of Isis, equally hell-bent on mutually assured destruction, often in the disguise of an attractive yet seemingly unassuming individual who simply wants to present you with some cool paintings or hairstyles they have concocted. The SOP[ Standard Operating Procedure] is as follows. This again, because I can simply not handle others getting the best of me, happened in real life…or real internet…? Regardless, a young woman followed me, and since I am not the Soup Nazi of Instagram (yet), I welcome her to my fandom. She, per profile, appears to be from Bulgaria and has a pretty interesting and artistic page. It looks legit and she has an email listed under an official business link [If I had a ton of disposable income I would absolutely dance with the devil and buy something of her decent collection]. Before I can even get to her second picture, she has liked 3 of my photos (this is key, remember three likes) and found the humanity in her heart to use the praying hands emoji on an image I posted some 4 months ago [remember the emoji]. Then she stops, and I, in a whirlwind of emotion, immediately follow her back. THE MOMENT, I click “follow”, my page refreshes and alas I have one less follower. Still I did not know what precisely was afoot. I notice what seemed at first to be a coincidence, but coincidence we shan’t describe it as. This was a cold, calculated, well-practiced and polished maneuver to boost the number of followers she had while also decreasing the number of people she followed, and my cerebral sperm count, to boot. I couldn’t hear the screams, “Evan it’s a trap! Evan! Nooooooo.” Was her account being run by the same people who mined gold in World of Warcraft for 15 hours a day? It was unclear. This much was, SBO [Small Business Olga] was getting direct message from me, right now.

                        Olga [Fake, name though she deserves to be outed],

            “Thank you so much for liking my page and the follow! I followed you too! Funny thing about that is, as soon as I followed you, I noticed you had unfollowed me almost instantly – not a great business practice.”



            This is the dreadful follow / unfollow I have referenced in sentences past. Mr. or Ms. “Con artist of the Week” picks an arbitrary hashtag, searches, clicks on a few of the top posts, likes three – four of your images, and then an emoji is planted. Let us be clear, this is not because they are so in awe of my contemporary spray painted mason jars that the utter elation they experience renders them unable to produce a coherent thought – leaving me with a rather ambiguous emoji to ponder over. Much like Facebook, where everyone is battling for “likes”, Instagram and Twitter operate in the same sphere of the eternally vain.  Maybe had Olga put in more time working on her, I admit, not out of spite, “sub-par” artwork and business model, she wouldn’t have to electronically cross the Atlantic Ocean just to disrupt my circle of trust in an attempt to boost the appearance of her profile. So much for Europe “trumping” us on all issues regarding social considerations.

            As I am racing to meet a deadline, literally three profiles have done the very same thing today with several of my posts – and they all represent brands or businesses aiming to profit off bringing whatever it is they forge in their dungeons of degeneracy to people surfing Instagram. Also, it is exceedingly noteworthy to mention the rapid likes happened to be on two videos I posted, each about ninety seconds long, not even affording them the temporal luxury to view both, even halfway to completion. Do they not see the utter absurdity of this inherently backwards reasoning? In addition to their worthiness of being tossed in a metaphorical, biblical pit, populated by confirmed and suspected lepers, for their poor judgement alone, there are more actors [enablers] at work behind the scenes.

            There are those failed computer engineers who had once dreamed of working at Google or Amazon, etc. who now write codes and applications that will unfollow people as soon as the poor saps [previously folks like me, but nevermore] return the favor. What a productive way to get back at those responsible for the programmers’ fall from e-grace these endeavors will prove to be. It gets worse – the applications will literally keep the user following that individual for an extended period of time if no follow back is received, to ensure the bluff is fully camouflaged and the gesture appears to have been made in earnest.  This is all well and good for individuals dead set on squandering their own undervalued time in matters of a private and personal nature. However, those who stand to “gain” the most from using the aforementioned apps are businesses and sole proprietorships who interpret a successful social campaign by the “Golden Ratio” I alluded to before.

            I have also had a business in the same town as me pull this follow page/ like maneuver and then immediately unfollow. This simply demonstrates it is not only a “bot” issue. Real people, with low intelligent quotas, who, having been granted access to a key board, are willingly practicing this follow/unfollow sabotage on others who could potentially be their NEIGHBORS. I hardly hesitate to posit that this practice grew from the internalization of certain superficial habits once necessary for thriving on Facebook and Myspace [Thanks, Tom]. If businesses have a falling out or something goes awry, or you are not interested in the product of a fellow business anymore – PLEASE BY ALL MEANS, unfollow them. That is your right. DECEPTION IS NOT.

Let’s be honest, Instagram and Twitter respectively are electronic contests of measurement, solely concerned with matters phallic [Male part]. This “contest” strikes me as some ugly step-child of arbitrage, where users, looking for the quick high, quickly follow and unfollow others on both personal and business accounts, in order to maximize their ratio. The more followers – the more power you exude, even if you suffer from ABS [Alien Body Syndrome re: the aliens drinking coffee in Men in Black]. I have argued, the outward expression of self-importance has been accepted and promulgated on social media for some time now. Entities seem to be over compensating for what would appear to be a “deficiency” or “deficiencies”, in a massive, non-exclusive club, ridden with social media Napoleonic complex. “Well my product really sucks, so I’ll feign some altruistic motivational mumbo jumbo in my new photos and employ this app to follow people for me – then people will know I am legit." WRONG. Good people, good customers, inhabit a world of value assessment where Buffett is King. They do not ascribe any modicum of value to your follower ratio or the vast numbers of bots that account for much of your followers – a hoarding of useless contacts received as payment from your deal with the devil. The people you want buying from you are those who don’t mind spending money on soon-to-be possessions that they value. They are not looking for the next IKEA quality stool that will be sitting curbside in a year, while townies race to claim the contraband in their metal filled pick-up trucks – something out of a Mad Max movie. Tip #49 [Apologies for not tracking] for social media deplorables: individuals likely to subscribe to the ideology of consciously attributing value to items before they buy them tend to be SMART PEOPLE. Further, I highly doubt they would buy from some hack who has 35,000 followers and 250 two star reviews to boot, evident when the journey is made from Instagram to point of sale. Focus on what matters, on what you are selling and on what you “claim”, in your story, to be so passionate about. If you play this follow/unfollow tug of war game with the people who actually shop online, they will unequivocally become an irritated bunch. After all, we all know how beneficial it is from a business perspective to immediately remove a shopper from the potential customer pool before any sort of interpersonal comms [military vernacular is awesome] are initiated. There is no winning hand in this scenario – you just got caught dealing from the top of the deck, and your business/brand/ image will eventually suffer an Edward Norton Rounders-esque beat down.

Safeguards exist to impede the advance of unwelcome and unscrupulous business practitioners – Angie’s list, Yelp, Google reviews and even word of mouth [God help you if it is this mode of shaming]. We [customers] demand more. We are surrounded by amazing stories daily -- regarding advancements in technology, people saving others from a subway train, or new counters to previously untreatable conditions/diseases [not caused by Chem Trails]. The aforementioned is precisely why it is so unnerving and unsettling that lesser beings still roam [click] among us, driven by vanity and fueled by positive reinforcement of their contemptuous foreplay. Don’t fall victim to the superficiality social media often perpetuates. The world is not a better place while functioning on that operating system.  Spread the word and use these websites in moderation and to a positive effect, being mindful you may not realize how social media is adversely reformatting your own OSX, until it’s too late.