Notes from the Reputation Economy

Notes from the Reputation Economy

Ever notice that Facebook doesn’t have a ‘dislike’ button? You can ‘unlike’ something, once you’ve liked it, but you’re not allowed to ‘dislike’ a post. Dissing is evidently verboten. Bret Easton Ellis recently posted a piece on Living in the Cult of Likability and, let’s face it, your posts are defining your ‘brand,’ lest we forget that you are the product, after all. “Instead of embracing the true contradictory nature of human beings, with all of their biases and imperfections, we continue to transform ourselves into virtuous robots. This in turn has led to the awful idea — and booming business — of reputation management, where a firm is hired to help shape a more likable, relatable You. Reputation management is about gaming the system. It’s a form of deception, an attempt to erase subjectivity and evaluation through intuition, for a price,” says Ellis.

If only it stopped there. “Last month, Facebook launched what it called an “Initiative for civil courage online,” the aim of which, it claims, is to remove “hate speech” from Facebook — specifically by removing comments that “promote xenophobia,” reports the Gatestone Institute. “Facebook is now removing speech that presumably almost everybody might decide is racist — along with speech that only someone at Facebook decides is “racist.” The sinister reality of a society in which the expression of majority opinion is being turned into a crime has already been seen across Europe. Just last week came reports of Dutch citizens being visited by the police and warned about posting anti-mass-immigration sentiments on social media.”

‘”Hate speech has no place in our society — not even on the internet,” Sheryl Sandberg was quoted as saying, in the article. She went to say that, “Facebook is not a place for the dissemination of hate speech or incitement to violence.”’

True, but let’s not forget that “it was just a few weeks ago that Facebook was forced to back down when caught permitting anti-Israel postings, but censoring equivalent anti-Palestinian postings,” the Gatestone author points out. “Now one of the most sinister stories of the past year was hardly even reported. In September, German Chancellor Angela Merkel met Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook at a UN development summit in New York. As they sat down, Chancellor Merkel’s microphone, still on, recorded Merkel asking Zuckerberg what could be done to stop anti-immigration postings being written on Facebook. She asked if it was something he was working on, and he assured her it was.”

Our purpose here is to sanction neither xenophobia nor hate/racist speech, nor do we personally engage in such behavior on any social platform. This is about the dangers of social media becoming less of a platform for open discussion and more of a tool to attempt to shape opinion – or suppress it, which never works, and not everyone is asleep at the wheel: Sorry Facebook: India has decided to remain a land of free and open internet.“While formulating the regulations, the authority has largely been guided by the principles of net neutrality seeking to ensure that consumers get unhindered and non-discriminatory access to the internet,” TRAI said in an official notification titled ‘Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulations, 2016’ (pdf) on Feb. 08. “These regulations intend to make data tariffs for access to the internet to be content agnostic.”

“We were promised flying cars, and all we got was 140 characters,” said Peter Thiel. Well, that and Self-Driving Cars (that) Spy on You (Autonomous cars function as ground-based surveillance drones).

‘“The lid is being put on the pressure cooker at precisely the moment that the heat is being turned up,’ the Gatestone Institute piece warns. ‘A true “initiative for civil courage” would explain to both Merkel and Zuckerberg that their policy can have only one possible result.”

“Empowerment doesn’t come from liking this or that thing, but from being true to our messy contradictory selves. There are limits to showcasing our most flattering assets because no matter how genuine and authentic we think we are, we’re still just manufacturing a construct, no matter how accurate it may be. What is being erased in the reputation economy are the contradictions inherent in all of us. Those of us who reveal flaws and inconsistencies become terrifying to others, the ones to avoid. An “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”-like world of conformity and censorship emerges, erasing the opinionated and the contrarian, corralling people into an ideal. Forget the negative or the difficult. Who wants solely that? But what if the negative and the difficult were attached to the genuinely interesting, the compelling, the unusual? That’s the real crime being perpetrated by the reputation culture: stamping out passion; stamping out the individual,” said Bret Easton Ellis.

We defer to Chris Rock, who took a different and much more humorous angle, but it’s more or less a variation on a theme: “Relationships, easy to get into, hard to maintain. Why are they so hard to maintain? Because it’s hard to keep up the lie! ‘Cause you can’t get nobody being you. You got to lie to get somebody. You can’t get nobody looking like you look, acting like you act, sounding like you sound. When you meet somebody for the first time, you’re not meeting them. You’re meeting their representative!”

It seems to us that social media is fast becoming a platform for censorship, be it external or, as it seems in some cases, self-imposed.  Still, thank you, Chris Rock, and always good to keep a sense of humor, as we go onward and forward.

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