It’s time to pop your social media bubble

October 22nd 2019. For many in Northern Ireland, it was a day of liberation and celebration. For others, it was their country’s #DarkestDay. I’m sure for others, it was somewhere in between.

I’m not here to comment on the laws that passed, but the discussion that they provoked which I found gravely concerning.

Before we delve headfirst into the issue, a quick case study: The United States of America. An increasingly polarised nation, with large swathes of the country being tarred ‘Red’ or ‘Blue’ based on their two-party system, which essentially limits the electorate to 2 choices come election day. From visiting the country in both staunchly Republican and Democratic areas, the ideological disparity is plain to see. I could bore you with my ‘Gap Yah’ enlightenment chat but consider this example:

When at an extended family gathering, Northern Irish politics came up in conversation. Being fairly anomalous in that I was raised non-religiously by parents from both sides of our own country’s divide, relatives curiously and kindly picked my brains on various issues. But when American politics came up, I was genuinely taken aback about how deeply divided a nation it is, even in comparison to Northern Ireland. Before I lose you here, let me tell you this: Not one of them was good friends with, worked with, or was related to someone who voted against the traditional party of their state. I tell a lie – one’s sister was married to a guy with differing political opinions, but he was “quite weird”. These are the most welcoming, loving people and non-judgemental people you could ever be lucky enough to meet, they just happened to be operating in a politically uniform community.

Back to Northern Ireland, 22nd October 2019. Some celebrated the passing of same-sex marriage and abortion decriminalisation laws with statuses including rainbow and smiley-face emojis, whilst many others showed their disagreement by changing their profile pictures to a black square with #DarkestDay. Search this hashtag on Twitter and among these typical updates, you’ll find a worrying trend.

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Of course, these people are free to follow and friend whomever they wish, but it begs the question: are we becoming polarised?

Jon Ronson published ‘So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed’ in 2015. The book posits the idea that we are living in “a great renaissance of public shaming” in which “we’ve created a stage for constant artificial high drama. Every day a new person emerges as a magnificent hero or a sickening villain.” Scroll down your newsfeed for less than 2 minutes and you’ll find a comment thread that proves this.

Even seemingly innocuous breakfast TV shows exploit this trend. This Morning (1.4M YouTube subscribers) and Good Morning Britain (478K YouTube subscribers) boast millions on views on their most popular videos, which often consist of debates on controversial topics (or increasingly, topics made controversial) between guests of 2 polar opposite opinions. Hundreds of YouTube videos following the clickbait title trope of ‘X ideologist owns Y ideologist’ or ‘Z viewpoint shut down’ boast viewership in the millions. With click-based revenue systems, arguments play the game perfectly, bypassing any reasoned discussion. Is it any wonder our own discussions are starting to follow suit?

Some of this social media shaming culture can arguably produce positive change, such as accounts like @DietPrada calling out multi-national fashion houses for copycatting smaller brands for profit or football fans that have posted racist videos being banned from future games by their club.

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Even if we consciously choose to avoid polarising media pieces, Facebook is still in the business of social segmentation. By engaging with content that interests us, even viewing a video in your timeline, Facebook classifies you by a whole range of criteria from your shopping and sports interests to your political affiliations (head to facebook.com/ads/preferences and click on ‘Your preferences’ to see your own algorithm-imposed social media bubble). Therefore, your newsfeed is tailored to bring you information suited to these interests, filtering out content that isn’t.

This algorithm has been exploited by political PR professionals, such as in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, to target specific groups with messaging tailored to suit their particular biases on a minute level, while hiding other issues that would cause them to rethink their voting choices. Whilst the same headline news would get through to the vast majority of people, the way the events were portrayed to whole sections of the community would be vastly different – so when we unfriend people of differing viewpoints, we only make our own social media bubble more unpoppable.

There is a glimmer of light however, as media outlets facilitating more nuanced and purposefully bias-free content are gaining traction as a result of the current media climate. A personal favourite of mine is Jubilee, a YouTube channel aiming to “make thought-provoking, real and empathetic videos to create a movement for human good”. Ran by young creatives in California, their Middle Ground series finds commonalities between those with opposing views on controversial issues and their Spectrum series find differing views between pigeon-holed people groups (atheists, plus sized people, veterans etc), among other binge-worthy videos.

So when you see a mate publish a viewpoint that is completely different from yours, roll your eyes as hard as you want, but wait a minute before you unfriend them – they may well be the only unique contribution to your newsfeed.

Georgia Galway is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on: Instagram @imthatgalwaygirl – and LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/georgia-galway-24a568153/.

The Fearless Girl

“Everything we want is on the other side of fear.” – George Addair.

 

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Thanks to Instagram’s savvy (but creepy) technology, posts we genuinely are interested in often appear on our ‘explore’ pages. This is usually pretty useful for me for four reasons;

  1. To look at healthy food I’ll probably never make
  2. To look at unhealthy food I definitely will make
  3. To watch fitness videos whilst lying horizontal on the sofa
  4. To stalk my best-friend’s ex-housemate’s sister’s friend’s brother (see relevant Kardashian meme below)

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Last night however, a picture caught my eye.

The image depicted what looked like a young girl, squaring up to a bull with the caption #TheFearlessGirl.  Pretty random? So I dug a little deeper.

One Google search later and any hope of getting a decent night’s sleep became a distant memory. Instagram had lead me to one of the most inspiring yet controversial campaigns of 2017. (THANKS Kevin Systrom!)

Here’s what I found out…

On 7th March 2017, the day before International Women’s Day, The Fearless Girl was erected on Wall Street. She arrived overnight, seemingly out of thin air and stood roughly 50 inches tall. With her hands triumphantly placed upon her hips and facing Wall Street’s iconic Charging Bull statue, she took New York’s heart of finance (and the world) by storm.

But why?

Fearless Girl was created for financial advising company State Street Global Advisors by creative agency McCann New York.

Their research identified one key issue;

“The problem is this – women are not making it to the top of any profession, anywhere in the world.” – Sheryl Sandberg, 2017.

They found that companies with women in leadership perform better than those without  (MSCI, November 2015) and aimed to challenge 3,500 companies (a quarter of which had no female board representatives) to add more women to their boards (NBC News, 2017).

They wanted to create a symbol of leadership for the women of today and tomorrow and brilliantly illustrated this with Fearless Girl. She represents courage, strength and ambition but with child-like innocence. When we look at Fearless Girl we see determination, not yet tainted by corruption. We see bravery, not yet tarnished by the unjust. We see heart, not yet disappointed or betrayed by deceit.  

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When I look at her, I see myself. I see 8 year old me playing games of British bulldogs against the boys, determined to win, never for a second doubting that I could.  I see myself studying hard for GCSE’s and am reminded of  the tears of joy I cried as I opened my results to see that (despite all odds) I had achieved a B in maths. I see myself at University. I see my hockey team victorious at Inter-provincial championships. I see myself working long hours far away from home on placement. Fearless Girl reminds me that there is nothing more rewarding than working hard for something and the feeling you get when you achieve it. America’s king of Monday night television, Stephen Colbert, dubbed Fearless Girl as a symbol, “representing women’s daily experience of having to face a tonne of bull.” She reminds us that as women, we’re inevitably going to face an abundance of daily hardships, but who’s to say we’ll let it stand in our way?

Did the campaign work?

Initially for State Street, yes.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Fearless Girl spawned almost one million tweets and an array of free publicity for State Street, including thousands of mentions on TV programs and hundreds of articles in papers around America. State Street estimates the traditional and social-media exposure generated by Fearless Girl is valued between $27 million and $38 million. Not bad for a rumoured budget of $250,000 (Wall Street Journal 2017). The statue’s resonance in social media highlighted the fact that digital campaign success can often stem from a purely offline idea.

And that’s not all.. Fearless Girl is now one of the most highly honoured campaigns in the history of the Cannes Lion International Festival of Creativity and one of two campaigns ever to have won four Grand Prix at Cannes (Adweek 2017).

However

State Street came under fire in March, when documents by the US Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program stated that, “since at least December 1, 2010, and continuing thereafter, State Street discriminated against Females employed in the Senior Vice President (SVP), Managing Director (MD), and Vice President (VP) positions by paying them less, in base salary, bonus pay and total compensation, than similarly situated Males employed in the same position.” (Quartz Media 2017). The company initially rejected the claims but has since agreed to pay nearly $4.5 million in back pay and over $507,000 in interest to settle the dispute.

So my question is this; A cleverly insincere marketing ploy or a heartfelt do-good campaign?

I’ve always tried to see the good in people. A somewhat naive personality trait, but one that allows me to sleep at night with less worries and angst that leave me tossing and turning in the sheets. When I see pictures of the grown women and the little girls standing next to Fearless Girl, I can relate to the emotions the 50 inch statue provokes. She inspires us all to be the best and forces us to believe that we can be, no matter who or what is standing in our way. To create and implement such a heartwarming campaign, I really do believe State Street were trying to promote real positive change. That being said, I can hardly ignore the initial benefits it brought about for their business, and the unfortunate tsunami of negativity that followed.

Ernest Gaines tells us to, “ Question everything. Every stripe, every star, every word spoken. Everything.”

Well… Are campaigns fooling us and merely created for the benefit of organisations?

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Hannah Martin is a final year Bsc student in Communication, Advertising and Marketing at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter @HannahMartin596, and Linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/in/hannah-martin-b31334112/