Reflections on inherent bias in user driven media
written by: heather gast
Social media isn’t going away, but it feels like we’ve had the same conversation around it for years. We owe it to ourselves to do more in our conversations on social media and its impacts on our generation and the world around us. Whether we’re creating or consuming, user-driven media puts more responsibility on us as the audience As most students on campus, I came of age right alongside social networking sites. I’ve heard the criticism of “those kids and their phones” since the original iPhone was released.
Conversations around social media have in the past been led by care providers, by the concerned teachers and parents who observe how we’ve experienced social media from the outside, but have never lived it themselves.
As such, these discussions have been reduced to lazy dialogues on mental health, loneliness and perfectionism. Such “symptoms” can easily be self-identified by teens or recognized by caregivers, but lack nuance. Rather than focusing on whether people should use social media or to what extent they spend their time devoted to it,, but how they can interact with content in a way that minimizes harm to themselves and other.
What I really want to see people talk about is the double-edged sword of user-driven media, particularly as it relates to trends and implicit biases. User-driven media’s existence is the epitome of pushed down barriers.
Contrary to established media such as TV broadcasts or Hollywood films, apps like Twitter and TikTok are rife with opportunities for anyone’s trend to catch on.
As opposed to budget-draining and labor-intensive production, a viral TikTok can come from practically any device with a camera that connects to the internet. This is fantastic as we’re able to provide platforms for people and connect them to others more than ever before.
Simultaneously, without these barriers, there are thousands more hours of user-driven media floating around. This saturation creates ample competition for views and engagement. As such, trends often appeal to the parts of our psyche reached within five to 60 seconds.
On TikTok and Twitter I’ll scroll past and like a handful of snippets of Tweets or videos every few minutes. There’s no way I actually considered the impact of this entertainment in that time.
This fast-tracked entertainment plays on our fears, insecurities and internal biases that we are conditioned to believe. To put it simply, it’s way easier for the audience to slip into trends that are sexist, racist, homophobic, Islamophobic and other -ists and -phobic to grab our attention.
This can be extraordinarily subtle, so much so that it requires the user, who is looking for a distraction from the world that they don’t have to use their brain for, to train themselves to act against these biases.
For instance, in the last year I have seen trends disparaging women who fit in these categories:
Teenage girls who go on missions trips
Pick me girls (reject femininity and strive to fit the ideals of men)
Chavs (a subculture of Northern British teenage girls who dress in sportswear and write diss tracks about each other)
Girls who sell clothes on the thrifting app Depop
“Christian Girl Autumn” (young white Christian women that wear sweaters, scarves and riding boots, often found with a travel coffee mug and Bible)
Hot Cheeto girls (snack on Hot Cheetos with long, acrylic fingernails — implied to be Black or Latina)
Girls who use the photo editing app VSCO
Meanwhile, here is the list of strictly masculine stereotypes it was cool for anyone to mock in the last year:
Lightskins (f*ckboys that are Black or mixed guys with lighter complexions, often overdramatic)
Kevin Nguyens (f*ckboys that are Asian)
Indie/skater boys (skinny boys who gaslight women)
Eboys (a subculture inspired by skater, goth and gamer culture)
Incels (“involuntary celibates” who spend their time degrading women on Reddit)
POV guys (Act out “point of view” scenarios where the audience is another character in a scene. Scenes are often outlandish and at least vaguely sexual or violent)
Notice that the list of feminine subcultures that were belittled is nearly twice as long as masculine subcultures. Additionally, lightskins, indie/skater boys, Eboys, and POV guys alike were all admired at some point, if not at the same time that they were mocked.
I will also note that these are specifically trends where those from outside are belittling those participating in a subculture. There’s plenty of trends poking fun at one’s own community as well, such as gay users claiming they can’t drive or do math.
By not engaging in these conversations about the impact of social media we’re accepting the immaturity placed on us and only pushing these problems deeper. We need to grow up and take on these challenges ourselves. Allow this article to be a wake-up call to remember the biases within yourself you’re working to challenge as you veg out on your phone. Decide what you truly want your “likes” to support.