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  • Stephanie Elie-Martin

Greed Silences Stories


Facebook began as an autheonographic exercise in community building through authentic story sharing. Your status update would provide a glimpse into your day, your mood or for those well versed in early social media tid bits of wit and sarcasm to entertain friends and family. Angry, happy, sad, mad Facebook was a place to let it all out to the people closest in your lives. High school and college friends alike could comment on pictures of your first date or child’s birth. You needed to post but one status to update your entire support network. As the site grew you were able to share more and more pictures, videos and direct chats. Authenticity reigned supreme and individual storytelling was truly democratized. Our stories were no longer silent narratives playing alone in our mind, but heard and validated by an audience of our peers.

As Chaucer said, “all good things must come to an end.” As we eased into the habitual sharing and interacting online big business was searching for a way to leverage our love of community building into their love of profits. The silver bullet became apparent when multi-level market, MLM, took off like wildfire through dry brush on Facebook. Suddenly the preponderance of sweaty selfies had everyone wondering what the set up was. Multi-level or network marketing is a direct selling method where independent agents earn money not just on the products they sell, but they products those they recruit to join the organization sell. The more people you recruit the more you make. While each company has its own compensation structure the incentive to recruit in this model of selling over reaches the basic product sale (Wikipedia, 2018). This is why you don’t just see buy my leggings or breakfast shake, but join my team and help others while earning money. They don’t want you to join their team and help others they want you to join their team and make them money.

This selling concept in conjunction with social media seems to especially resonate with woman. While there hasn’t been formal research on the subject, a cursory glance of popular MLM hashtags is enough to convince nearly anyone on the veracity of this assertion. This may be due to women are being sold the dream we’ve long been told isn’t possible: you can have it all. We can both be stay at home wives and mothers while simultaneously providing income and financial value to our families. We no longer have to choose; we simply need to sell leggings or workout supplements to our friends. DLM figured out it’s target market and flooded your news feed with workouts and leggings.

Social media has accelerated the process of direct level marketing by putting it directly in our hands and in front of our faces. Facebook is a covert DLM platform that is altering selling and spending and it knows it. This realization was palpable and reminiscent of McLuhan’s anecdote about IBM realizing it sold information processing and not business equipment. Gone, seemingly overnight, were authentic, unifying slices of life and omnipresent were sweaty selfies and legging parties. The way to commoditize Facebook was to make commodities out of you and mean.

Where we once had power by sharing authentic stories, building deep, rich relationships we were not subjugated by corporate greed. Facebook was revealed as the inherently political technology is was destined to be. We can’t fault Facebook, in entirety, for this as one cannot possibly fathom each possible iteration a technology might acquire upon conception. It’s hard to lay blame on a technology for its ability to be leveraged by corporate greed. Big business is opportunistic and sacrosanct.

As Winner says, “what we see here instead is an ongoing social process in which

scientific knowledge, technological invention, and corporate profit reinforce each other in deeply

entrenched patterns, patterns that bear the unmistakable stamp of political and economic power” (Winner, pg. 5). Facebook is simply the newest technology to matriculate into this pattern. While we started out freely sharing our personal narratives it has evolved into another avenue to subjugate individuals to the politics of big business. Facebook surely maintains the duplicity of most technologies demonstrating Postman’s burden and blessing principle (Postman, pg. 5). As social media evolves we are able to watch this pattern play out continuously. Unfortunately, we can’t opt out of technology, but we can always find a road through.

References:

Cunha, Darlena. (2018, April 18). Beware of Selling Yoga Pants on Facebook. The Atlantic. Retrived from https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2018/04/multilevel-marketing-yoga-pants-facebook/558296/

McLuhan, Marshall. (1964). Understanding Media: the Extensions of Man. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Postman, Neil. (1993). Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. New York: Vintage Books.

Wikipedia contributors. (2018, August 30). Multi-level marketing. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 23:02, September 5, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Multi-level_marketing&oldid=857276006

Winner, L. (1986). The Whale and the Reactor: A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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