By Lauren Gutierrez
In the PBS Frontline documentary “Generation Like” the media industry’s manipulation of user content and its audience’ ability to become the media is analyzed. While watching the video I thought how incredible it is that information can be exchanged so rapidly, bringing big business for some and a chance at the spotlight for others. One moment that caught my attention was when I saw the young Steven Fernandez, a talented skateboarder hoping to get his family out of poverty, doing obscene Youtube videos to gain followers. Among his peers Steven is the man and I can see the humor in having a baby-faced kid do these stunts but at a certain point it’s exploitation when even they point out in the video that he is mostly paid in merchandise like hats, skateboards, and shoes.
It is demonstrated in the documentary how agencies like “The Audience” gain momentum around a person or product by creating a stir of conversation online behind their curtain of software that tracks what their client’s followers “like” on Facebook. They also stimulate their audience to generate more likes, shares, conversations, comments, etc. For example, the actor Ian Somerhalder from the Vampire Diaries, with a few posts, in a single day can reach “3 to 6 million people”. That is a striking number when there is absolutely no cost of advertising.
There was a young girl in the documentary who was spending hours on social media basically acting as an un-paid promoter but she didn’t mind it because she got “sparks” which got her the low-down on the movie Catching Fire. I don’t think it’s fair to, again, exploit someone even if technically they are willing participants. In this situation you would think her parents would get concerned that she is spending so much time doing this.
In the end there are people who are benefiting from this like the actors, agents, movie executives, etc. Even some Youtube video bloggers, like Tyler Oakley the “professional fangirl”, have made a name for themselves and have gotten attention from sponsor’s like Taco Bell and Pepsi. Despite the cringe worthiness, I’m not sure there is anyone to blame, it is capitalism at its finest.
For another take on the fame-obsessed culture brewing on the internet take a look at New York Magazine’s article by Joe Coscarelli, “Who Did You Think Teenagers Were Watching on Their Phones?” from their section on The Weird Wide World of Internet Celebrity.