Black Mirror: the truths and fictions of social media

By Ashley John - Digital Marketing Consultant. 

RatedBlack Mirror returned to our TV screens recently with a brand new season. Thanks to Netflix, we were able to delve into the dystopian worlds that are just around the corner due to the magic of technology. It didn't take long for me to binge the entire season (the subject matter is heavy, but very watchable!). The first episode of the new season, titled ‘Nosedive’, took a look at social media, and the ways in which obsessive social media use could be positive, but more often (it is a show about dystopias after all) negative.

Nosedive is quite a scary episode, especially for someone who uses social media on a regular basis, but how close to home does the episode hit?

Just an FYI, this blog assumes you have watched the episode and there will be spoilers!

Your worth is tied to your social media presence

The concept behind Nosedive is that social media has developed in such a way that friends and strangers can give you a rating out of 5 based on your performance as a human being. For example, by taking a nice picture which we would describe as Instagram-worthy, strangers could give you 5 stars.

Your overall star rating is directly tied into your social standing, with those with a higher star rating being considered more popular, trustworthy and overall better than those with a lower rating. The technology allows you to judge someone just by sharing the same space as them, so it is no longer enough to give the impression of a perfect life online, you have to seem to be living a perfect life in reality too.

This is a natural development for social media; currently, metrics such as the number of Twitter followers indicates a person’s popularity, along with their worth when it comes to listening to/taking advice. It becomes a cycle in which those already at the top of the chain grow larger, while those below them have to work even harder to be heard among the roar of up and comers. In this way, the setup of Nosedive is one that any active user of social media channels can understand.

Companies preferring certain clients (influencers)

The driving force behind the episode is the protagonist Lacie’s desire to move into an exclusive housing estate that offers rental discounts for those of a star rating of 4.5 and above. Throughout the episode, as Lacie loses control of her ranking (as the title would suggest, she goes from a 4.2 to a 2.6, to having her social media device removed completely) more and more services are cut off from her. Her ranking is directly tied into whether or not she can book a flight, the type of rental car she can have, and even which queue she can stand in!

Express LaneRecent years have seen companies turn to online influencers to promote products, which often involves being paid and sent free items. Influencers are people who have become trusted within a community, and are an effective method of marketing. The world of Nosedive insinuates that every single person is a potential influencer, though some people are negative influencers. In this world, every single person is a walking marketing campaign, which can be great for businesses, but not so much for the self-esteem of the general public. 

Gurus to help you improve your social media presence

The social media gurus aren’t an evolution of a current social media trend, rather it shows that roles like SEO marketers and digital marketers will be more in demand as social media grows.

When Lacie visits her social media guru, who advises her on the best way to improve her ranking, what you’re seeing is an exaggerated version of what we do here at Orantec. We take a look at your social media presence, or your digital content, or even just your website, and suggest ways in which you (as a business) can improve your popularity and footfall to your website. True, we don’t commodify people as much as the guru in Nosedive, but this is less the future, and more the present.

The smallest mistake can ruin your online reputation

The Internet, where mistakes are made and never forgotten!

What makes Nosedive such a scary episode, despite how light-hearted and funny it is compared to most Black Mirror episodes, is how realistic Lacie’s downfall is. The Internet is filled with horror stories of people’s lives being ruined because they sent a tweet that they should have thought twice about; Jon Ronson even wrote a book titled So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed about what people go through when they make a poor choice online, and how it can affect a person’s personal and professional life.

In fact, Nosedive takes a rosier view of someone’s fall from grace than the realities that we see online – in fact, it may even be more difficult to redeem yourself in the eyes of the public in the real world than it is in Black Mirror. Sometimes, reality is stranger, and in a strange way, scarier, than fiction.

Downgrading social status as a punishment

One of the interesting side effects of a world in which social media determines social status is how punishment is dealt. Lacie’s trip to the airport ends in a security card temporarily docking a full star-point off her rating, which is a huge deal in a 5-star system. She is also punished by going on ‘double danger’ where each negative rating she received would essentially count as 2 negative reviews, expediting her downfall.

In this situation, punishments have a much larger effect, and can even be more devastating than being given a verbal warning. A large part of Lacie’s downfall occurs because of her ranking being docked. In this world, rather than being locked away, when you are punished you are allowed out in public, but the public can see that you have been punished.

Social media affects individuals more than brands

It’s unsurprising in an episode that looked at how social media affects individuals that it wouldn’t give much time to how brands dealt with this change in social media perception. In fact, as seen above, brands only ever benefit from a social media existence which you can’t switch off from.

Social media guruIn fact, in this reality, brands and companies would have to work just as hard, if not harder to maintain a positive image. Social media is often treated as a complaints department for members of the public, but current advancements in social media allow brands to respond and make amends or even turn a complaint into a positive interaction. The same can’t be said for Nosedive’s image of social media in which the only thing people make a judgement on is how you present yourself and your ranking.

It’s clear that in this future, both individuals and brands would have to work extremely hard to maintain a perfect image.

Going off the grid can be liberating

The episode ends with Lacie having the device that connected her to her social media profile removed, meaning she could not judge nor be judged. This leads to her having a sparring match with another person who has had his device removed also. The two exchange insults in a way that’s both comedic and liberating because neither are worried that the other would vote them down.

While the final note of the episode is optimistic, it leaves several unanswered questions about Lacie’s fate within this world; for example, if brands make sales decisions based on a person’s ranking, how will they react to someone with no ranking?

At Orantec, our social media game is top-notch, but even we need to take the time to log off and enjoy the world around us. So, if you’re beginning to feel bogged down by the weight of social media, why not switch off for a while? You won’t miss that much, or you could always hire a team of digital marketers to help you out.

Are you all caught up on Black Mirror? What was your favourite episode? Let us know on Facebook and Twitter, where we’re always happy to discuss our latest TV obsessions! If you have any questions about our services, or want to find out more, don’t hesitate to contact us online!


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