Monday 12 July 2021

Rankism on Social Media

by Allister John Marran

Charles Colton once said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Yet what happens when the imitator does not get the acknowledgement or admiration they so dearly crave from the originator, when the genesis and creator does not give a pat on the back or even realise their shadow exists?

Many things start off as innocent and unassuming. Experience success in a sport, in a relationship, in life or business or any other public sphere, and settle in to reap the rewards of a job well done. 

Privately you can be proud of your accomplishments, and you may need to tip a hat to any plaudits that come your way, but generally you keep to yourself, sharing your victories with close friends and family and getting on with life.

A photo here and there may leak onto the social media landscape, which acts as a megaphone, amplifying your successes (and failures), spreading faster than a virus at spring break. 

People take notice. Beware, says the OECD*, in a recent report on ‘personhood’: ‘Disclosure of identity information in an improper context ... can cause harm’. Ethnicity, say, or sexual orientation. One could add ageism, classism, homophobia, and a whole lot more. In fact, anything under the sun, depending on the context -- and rankism. 

Many people look at you and believe that they can emulate your work, your skills, your talent, and abilities. They believe they have the knowledge and the skills and fortitude to replicate your path through life. But your journey took hard work, sacrifice and savvy, and those wishing to be you are not willing to walk the same path to success. Shortcuts and cheap knockoffs are hardly a means to greatness.

Not everyone who follows you is friendly, most Twitter profiles and Facebook privacy settings are completely open for all to see -- and some become fixated. Some people watching from afar may be insecure, others jealous, and others still may be truly hostile and narcissistic. 

Public people deal with this on a daily basis. YouTubers with millions of subs get constant hate mail. Movie stars and musicians have to hire bodyguards. The more their successes grow, the more they attract detractors.

Jealousy is a powerful emotion. When your fans want praise for aspiring to become a 'mini-me' and you don't know they exist, it can lead to anger, frustration, and eventually hostility. The rapper, Eminem, wrote a hugely popular song, which was certified gold and platinum many times over. It is about a young man called Stan, an obsessive fan who could not let go. Not receiving the attention he wanted from the singer, this led ultimately to his own destruction, and the destruction of the one he loved.

There is a lesson and warning to everyone who reads this post, as by simply reading this you prove that you have a public profile and online persona. Be careful who you accept as a friend, and don't publish your successes for all to see. You never know who is watching, or where rankism will break out. 

Insecurity and jealousy can easily lead to hatred and aggression. You can alienate someone you have never met, that you don't even know exists. So set all your posts to private. Allow only your closest of allies to celebrate your life with you. It only takes one ‘crazy’ to become infatuated, get triggered, and then decide to make you acknowledge them when they don't deserve it. It happens all the time.

In the age of instant messaging and influencers, Charles Colton would never have said what I started this piece by quoting. Instead, he might have said something like this: ‘Be careful of your imitators, they just might be a Stan -- the attention-seeking fan, above.’ 

* OECD. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development: At a Crossroads: 'Personhood' and Digital Identity in the Information Society (a DOC download).


Thomas O. Scarborough said...

Rankism is said to lie behind, or inside many other isms: racism, sexism, classism, and so on. It is the ism of isms. The question then is, what lies behind, or inside rankism itself?

Keith said...

As you suggest, Allister, the rough-and-tumble nature of social media can make it an unforgiving platform, hence rankism. Social media smolders with hyperpartisanship, making it hard to vet content and know what's soundly sourced, fact-based, and true. People sometimes react viscerally and off the cuff. I see social media less about simple communication and more about ideological posturing.

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