In 2012, a young woman in North America posed for a ill conceived image at Arlington Cemetery. Part of a series of images she would make with a friend where they would make inappropriate gestures in inappropriate places, the photograph would have been given the merit it rewarded in the pre-social media years; giggled at/disapproved of, and then forgotten. Instead, when the image was posted online, it led to waves of ridicule and hate as we the people of the internet put in the boot to such a degree that the woman lost her job, relationships and mind. According to economics advisor Jonathan Hersh, through advertising revenue, Google made a profit of $120,000 from this woman’s pain and suffering. Which is not to say this was an intentional aim of the company, but it did at least keep them in liquorice M&M’s for another month.
The above example is just one of the ways in which social media companies profit from, or exploit their users, and right now they are bouncing extra hard on their company space hoppers to dream up new methods to keep things that way. In this last year, Facebook has been suffering contextual collapse, whereby uses are failing to post and share about their lives in the way in which they used to. Personal posts tend to be the ones which receive the most clicks, likes and comments and so boost advertising revenues in ways which the latest Donald Trump/Game of Thrones meme just doesn’t. So Facebook works hard to be your friend, helpfully serving up blessed moments from your past in the hope you will comment and share. Just this morning, I signed in to see a casually happy family snap which had me briefly pining for a time when every noise my children make didn’t drive me to despair. But then I remembered it was just a trick for clicks. Like the even more elaborate video I spotted on a friend’s page. Facebook had put together a montage for him and his wife, on their 9th anniversary of being Facebook friends. Someone call Hallmark. There needs to be a card for this.
So how to visually represent this rather grubby cash grab masquerading as friendship? For me, the answer was to make the opening night of my fictional social media company Eko as grubby as possible. Nothing says we care like casket wine you wouldn’t bathe a wound with, or scattered bowls of maize based cheese inspired snacks. The open vodka bottle with a handful of fingers left was a nice touch, too. Or was that already in the house? The purpose of art is to deepen the mystery, as Francis Bacon said.