Could we be any more authentic on social media?
Emrah Güler - ANKARA“Could I be any more authentic?” asked Socality Barbie under one of her Instagram photos, posing with a hipster hat and what’s supposed to look like prescription glasses on the backdrop of a railway and a misty forest. More than a dozen hashtags accompany the photo, among which are #liveauthentic, #neverstopexploring and #instagood. More than 1.2 million Instagrammers are proof the parody account of the hipster Barbie has perfectly captured the diminishing authenticity of the photo sharing social platform with the increasing number of users.
Created by an American wedding photographer, who prefers to remain anonymous, the hipster Barbie trades her designer clothes for a simpler, more hip look, with her backpack, woolen cap and specs intact as she explores nature or enjoys coffee and a copy of Kinfolk magazine in the comfort of her home. If you are an Instagram user, you will undoubtedly know the photos Socality Barbie is satirizing.
“Had to stop looking at the ocean to take a picture of myself looking at the ocean so I could post about how beautiful the ocean was,” sums up the spirit of her photos, with the right amount of filter and the right number of hashtags. “People were all taking the same pictures in the same places and using the same captions,” the anonymous creator of the account recently told Wired. “I couldn’t tell any of their pictures apart so I thought, ‘What better way to make my point than with a mass-produced doll?’”
Under another photo of Socality Barbie, with carefully messed hair over a carefully messed bed, is written, “I love this community so much! I know many of you don’t live anywhere near me but I feel like we can truly do life together anyway.” Socality is an online social community, a self-proclaimed “community for purpose” and “a social community all for eternity.” Their foremost mission, as written on their website socality.org, is a commitment “to creating spaces of belonging online and turning these into real life interactions.”
The paradox of the wisdom of crowds
The flourishing of online communities, and the false sense of belonging they exert most of the time, is another thing Socality Barbie is successfully satirizing. “One of the fundamental characteristics of a network is that, once you are linked in the network, the network starts to shape your views and starts to shape your interactions with everybody else,” said James Surowiecki, the New Yorker staff writer and the author of “The Wisdom of Crowds,” a book on collective wisdom and its relation to business, economics and societies, at a TED Talk.
Surowiecki cited one of the problems about online communities: “The problem is that groups are only smart when the people in them are as independent as possible. This is the paradox of the wisdom of crowds, or the paradox of collective intelligence, that what it requires is actually a form of independent thinking. And networks make it harder for people to do that, because they drive attention to the things that the network values.”
Increasing number of users in social media platforms and online communities make it all the more difficult to stay authentic, bringing back another paradox, that parody is becoming the new authenticity. “Parody is the new normalcy for the identity politics of a generation struggling with authenticity imposter syndrome,” wrote Zeynep Arsel, a marketing professor at Concordia University’s John Molson School of Business. “They want to live rich, meaningful and honest lives full of pleasure, surprise and originality; but the harder they try the more their lives feel like a caricature of hip materialism.”
Parody accounts may be harder to sustain on a photo-sharing platform like Instagram, but it’s much easier on a micro-blogging platform like Twitter, where 140 characters is the maximum you can write in a post.
Take the Twitter account of Mimar Sinan, the famous Ottoman architect and civil engineer from the 15th and 16th centuries. With over 12,000 followers, he muses on some miserable buildings and mosques, pondering over whether he should have studied medicine in the first place.
Some parody accounts have long surpassed their original accounts. Controversial businessman and construction tycoon Ali Ağaoğlu’s parody Twitter account has nearly half a million followers. Perhaps the most controversial of the parody accounts was that of Allah himself, sharing his wisdom on creation, evolution and what constitutes sin, until the creator of the account was sentenced to 15 months in prison last year on charges of “humiliating the religious values accepted by a part of the people.” With hundreds of new users everyday on social media, at least for now, parody seems to be the antidote to repetition and a lack of authenticity.