The story of a social illusion

This is a post I originally wrote on this blog, then broke it up into parts on my instagram account in a slightly different form, then reworked here. Here’s a more complete version of my thoughts on the subject with what the blog offers as additional possibilities.

The immediacy and pressure that instagram puts on me is starting to do me more harm than good.

It’s crazy when you think about it, to think that you are subjected to something that you will consult and feed of your own free will.

That’s the nature of an addiction…

An addiction that I managed to overcome at times but that I fall back into every time.

But it’s hard for me: I earn my living partly thanks to instagram: with Un Beau Jour d’abord, and with my personal account from time to time when I really need it.

And this year with the crisis I’ve been going through (almost individual entrepreneur in the wedding world in 2020 with a baby = slap) I had to swallow my principles a bit and do more partnerships than before.

So it’s hard to hang up: every time I make and stick to my good resolutions ) quit Instagram I have to go back to work.

While I hate this addictive consumption that I do of other people’s content and I hate more and more everything that the platform requires of me as a content creator.

Which makes me laugh out loud when I reread my 2018 post where I said ‘yeah haha it’s no big deal all this’ back when I could still make a bit of a living from my training business and didn’t need ad revenue to survive a chaotic year like 2020.

That’ll teach me to think I’m a little above it all.

The space to express yourself

The truth is that I feel instagram’s space is getting smaller and smaller to really develop ideas both in the tools it offers and in its ad model.

In the posts feed I counted: the description of a post is limited to 2200 signs, which sometimes forces to continue the text in “continuation in the comments”.

But we won’t lie, it’s not very readable and about 50% of people give up after the description.

Frustration.

How do you get people’s attention, keep them there? Shouting at them “ého look at meiii”. In those moments I feel pathetic.

And then this “description” space often gives indigestible blocks, it is difficult to skip lines and to compensate for the lack of formatting, I find myself putting 4,000 emojis to keep the attention and I feel like taking your readers for 6 year olds.

I hate taking my readers for 6 year olds.

And then, it’s not possible to put links to complete a post and enrich it for further reflection.

A post with text on several slides in a carousel is limited to 10 slides, and to keep a pleasant readability (I counted.) can not reasonably count more than 4,000 signs.

And the best part is, when you finally post this post feed with your text written with all the best care, the instagram algorithm will do its little test and publish it to 10% of your subscribers to see if they respond or not and if they don’t, almost nobody will see the post and it will be forgotten.

When you know that, you watch your post like milk on the fire when it has just been posted, refreshing, refreshing, refreshing, refreshing, refreshing…

To make you almost sick.

Stories offer many more possibilities.

Stories or nothing

Instagram encourages content creators to go through stories.

Because it is the number 1 objective of Instagram and Facebook who see the future of their network as this format “zapping” seems to satisfy our need for easy to consume content and as the performance of ads are better.

Stories are the new cradle of addiction on instagram: with a lifespan of 24 hours, if you don’t log in for a day you feel like you’re going to miss something important.

So we swipe, we swipe, every day until we run out of news saying to ourselves “wow, I didn’t miss anything”.

I resisted stories for a long time: I didn’t look at them or make them, I decided I didn’t want to avoid them.

And then someone offered to pay me to do them and I put that principle away.

Put away my principles, everything I hate…

And in doing so, I saw the benefits of stories for a content creator:

In addition to being shown to all my subscribers, I wasn’t limited in the number of images posted in a story.

So I could put as much text as I wanted and enrich it with swipe up links (yes I have access to the feature, and I find it really hard that instagram requires working like a good little soldier to develop your account, Instagram to give access).

Everything makes the story more appealing in terms of possibilities.

But it takes me a really super long time to prepare to make it nice and readable, and the stories have no comments.

I get asked a lot of questions in DM, and while it’s not unpleasant to discuss in a quiet environment, most of the time, no one gets the answers and that frustrates me a lot.

Or it takes extra time to make screenshots of the questions and share the answers.

I calculated: on a story about a social topic I spend almost 1 hour writing it, then 1 hour preparing the “text” slides so that the story is pleasant to read, more than 2 hours answering everyone and another 1 hour posting questions and answers from the DMs to complete the reflection.

Much more time than preparing a blog post.

And then the story, only lasts 24 h, unless I record it in front page publications.

But then, for the control freak of the order that I am hello anguish, you end up with a jumble of posts stacked one on top of the other, and I know it’s hard to find an information read in story in this mess.

Instagram goals:

Lately I’m tired of it all, it’s wearing me down, I feel like I’m literally working for instagram in exchange for a little bit of exposure.

The platform is demanding more and more from me: stories, use of features that boost engagement (questions, polls, votes, real) for less and less feedback.

And I think I’ve tended to fool myself in the last few years: I work more for instagram than instagram works for me.

I feel like I’m in a bad sci-fi novel with an insufferable robot coach behind everything I do: “put a poll it boosts engagement” “ask a question it boosts comments” “post a real one we want people to do more by example”…

“Well that’s okay you did a good job we’ll show your posts”

Because it doesn’t make sense basically, Instagram wasn’t designed for that.

The tool was designed and thought above all to run its own advertising model and for it to work it needs people to come back again and again.

And for that it also has an ugly little method…

Robot censorship:

Instagram has an outrageous way of censoring content that the algorithm doesn’t find very “advertising friendly

“.

You can’t imagine how good I felt recently when I saw a very soft post of a woman giving birth marked as “violent content” by instagram.

Like this is violent?

You couldn’t see anything shocking in that image (and god knows a birthing photo can be scary but it couldn’t have been so soft)

But Instagram was telling me it’s violent.

..

There’s something scary when you take a closer look at how an algorithm works when its goal is to provide the most pleasurable experience possible so that the ad works the best

.

Smooth, pretty, no-nonsense content is the algorithm’s ideal for a profile like mine aka a woman in her 30s who obviously has a child.

Here’s what I learned in my research of the Instagram algorithm:

  • The algorithm has the easy censorship of what is not in the norm, because it is based on what users mark as being a sensitive subject for them.
  • The algorithm “perfects” itself by constantly learning from these “reports”, this is called “deep learning” or “machine learning”.
  • We all have a different degree of sensitivity but the algorithm censors if it judges that an audience is likely to see an image that could potentially shock them.

If you take the image of the woman giving birth from an account that is mostly aimed at women in their 30s, the algorithm must have deemed it potentially offensive content for them based on the attitude of a large sample of women that age and preferred to censor with some of them, including me.

And I don’t think it’s doing this to be a moral guardian.

I think Instagram wants to make sure that we always have a “positive experience” on their platform and if we see images that shock us we won’t want to go there and click on the ads.

Everything is done to keep us in a small universe that we like without overflowing.

That’s why

that countless porn accounts thrive on Instagram, because the intended audience doesn’t seem the least bit shocked.

The instagram account of the Between Our Lips podcast recently did a great job of talking about this problem, collecting plenty of testimonials from users who have had their content censored on the platform, in this post here and also in this one.

We thought the Terminator was Schwarzy with a gun.

But it is much less thundering Skynet, it is a small invisible and very vicious algorithm.

Content is

what we, as content producers, are gradually forced to implicitly encourage to post only content that doesn’t make waves

.

It’s very difficult to post content that can be controversial.

Even when I post about a controversial topic, I see a small jump in unfollows every time.

The algorithms by their construction, instead of creating diversity, have just standardized the web and it’s starting to get scary.

Why I continue:

I feel the pressure rising in my pot. Because no matter how hard I try to push the walls of instagram, I feel more and more locked in.

So it’s true, I don’t have to force myself to stay on a platform if I don’t feel good there anymore.

But I put so much time and energy into gathering my community on my account.

At the time I naively didn’t think it was possible that one day a robot would decide to show us only what it thought was “interesting for us” instead of us. Hiding posts from people we subscribe to.

I honestly have it really bad and I have the feeling that I contributed to the platform’s growth on a small scale with a lot of “follow me on instagram” only to find myself almost “punished” today if what I produce is not “likable” enough.

I sometimes feel like Instagram has become my boss.

The limits of the tool:

And then, what gives me a feeling of uneasiness, is that I feel my voice on instagram is very limited.

Mainly because the platform isn’t designed for us to have overly developed and structured exchanges, it goes all over the place.

There was a time when I was happy with the constraints, because it’s often the constraints that push you to be creative.

That’s one of the first things I learned in my applied art studies: it’s important to have a…


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