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Black Mirror: “Nosedive” (S03 E01), social media, reputation and access

Measuring the value of reputation: posts and likes on the social networks

Screengrab of the “Nosedive” episode

By Bianca Berbel Fernandes and Dandara Corrêa Freitas de Medeiros

Do you daily share habits, thoughts, and everyday situations on the social networks? Later, on the same day, do you look how many likes and reactions your post got? Do you check the comments? If people agree with you? If they support you? If they endorse your attitudes? Do you rethink and edit your posts before sending them considering the different filters that might earn you more likes? Do you make an effort to show that your life is as great as what others are sharing? How do you react to likes, replies, and comments? And what about the lack of them?

In the first episode of Black Mirror’s third season called Nosedive”, the answers and motivations for the questions above are taken to the extreme in a world that, in spite of being fictional even in the pastel colors that make it, begins from a plausible and current premise to our society: the use of the social networks as a means to get external approval and that [only] through it some people consider themselves happy in their own reality. In the episode, each attitude in that world is daily evaluated by other people through the attribution of scores for everything that the individuals do and publish. This evaluation grants them a grade in real time that, along with previous evaluations, determines if the person can have access to priority lines, better seats when buying airplane tickets, better car rental options, better mortgage taxes, among other situations and, at the limit, if the individual can access certain places, that is, if they can cross certain borders between what is considered the ideal lifestyle and the rest of the world.

The reality exposed in this episode is not so far from the world in which we currently live. Today, the real and the virtual spaces are not only parallel and at a constant distance; on the contrary, they interact, meet, and cross paths in many moments to compose the self-identification and the self-image of those who are within the context of this duality. Just like in the series’ episode, everyone’s reputation is also guided by the way in which we relate to each other online, and how we explore this virtual projection created by us and fed by the other. However, before dealing with any distortion or difference between the real and the virtual world, we will focus on the virtual persona and its creation.

The building of an online reputation begins with the creation of a profile in a social network of the individual’s interest, in which there is usually a unique dynamic for sharing and rating. When compared, we see that the ideal content to be posted on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter is very different. After creating a profile, there is a period of discovery of the network and its possibilities, even of what people wish to make of it, be it producing content and/or observing and interacting with content produced by others.

From this moment, the establishment of an online reputation begins based on the several available tools that enable increasing the number of followers and the quantity of likes. In this scenario, people who dedicate themselves specifically to influence society appear — natural or artificially –, considering the reach that the Internet and the social networks can have for self-publicizing, advertising, and spreading information. For those who dedicate themselves more intensively to this activity, numbers have a lot of meaning. Beyond being considered celebrities, bloggers (a concept gathering YouTubers, blog writers, Instagrammers, among others influencers) are known for representing a determined lifestyle to their followers by posting about their routines: what they are eating, what they are doing, where they are having dinner with their friends, and so on. This communication then results in a continuous manner of acting in the online environment and on an intimacy with their followers. That is why they have a target audience and aim to be a reference in specific subjects on the social networks, being the leader of an Internet niche.

With this development, their activity on the virtual sphere begins to influence their actions in the physical space. To ascend in this world (which also has an impact on their personal lives), bloggers start to act guided by the search for more likes and followers when making posts. The result is a landscape of artificial attitudes and the unstoppable search for making an impact on the web.

This is shown in the episode we are discussing. The main character, in order to be able to buy the house she wants, needs to increase her rating on the evaluation ranking. For this, she begins to guide her daily activities with the goal of getting higher grades: she eats a cracker she does not like only to post a more interesting picture and score more; she gets closer to an old friend who has a higher grading (but who has always treated her badly) only to have better evaluations as well; she distances herself from other people just because they have low scores, and so forth. She then uses several mechanisms that would allow her to improve her scores so that she can have access to the house she wants, which is tied to the commercialization of a lifestyle.

Making a parallel to our reality, in order to get more followers, bloggers normally use hashtags and tagging mechanisms. This allows their posts to be shown to a greater number of people through the hashtag search and also by tagging other famous people in the digital world on their posts. That is why the search for approval on the social networks is also quite common in this scenario.

From the moment someone makes a post, this content is on the web to be commented upon, approved, or just judged by others, as well as from the moment you log in to the social network you are there to judge all public acts of others, even if without a context or proximity to the individual being judged. This is well exemplified in the episode when we see that the main character, in order to be accepted at her work, for instance, needs not only to be very active on the social network in question but also make the effort to show a luxurious and happy lifestyle, which not necessarily reflects her reality; she needs to behave like the other people when the issue is exclusion and discrimination.

Therefore, this method of valuing determined conducts and lifestyles ends up entailing the exclusion and eventual discrimination of those who cannot follow the standard or that, for some reason, are no longer considered fit for a good grade. This exclusion and discrimination are not restricted to the virtual world, on the contrary, they are materialized in the episode’s society, making it harder for people to access ordinary activities like renting a car. Even if today’s reality of the social networks is not as extreme as the episode’s, we can see that more and more these situations are becoming a habit, like judging other people, needing to show a certain lifestyle that is considered better, and the discrimination and segregation of people based on their virtual profiles rather than on what is lived and accomplished on the real world.