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Media Literacy and What a Social Following Means

Updated on March 28, 2020
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Writing about the science and philosophy of western tattooing.


Social Media and the Global Search Engine.

How much influence should influencers or reviews have over us?

How many of those followers you see on influencer accounts are real? This is something that we can never know.

We have turned our focus inward with social networking, and there is no way for us to know who is real. If we go onto a “profile page”, how do we know that they really exist? Is there a way to qualify the attentions given to reviews, likes or otherwise, when searching through the vast oceans of information we are confronted with during our day to day.

Let’s ask a couple questions and critically analyze the environment we are in-

If Facebook or Instagram has over 4 billion (4,000,000,000) of its accounts identified as real flesh and blood humans but you come to find that more than half of them are fake, how can you assume that all active accounts are real people?

This may seem like an easy thing to figure out, but in the world of social networking you can only define who is real by meeting them in a way is apart from the social network. This creates a separation from the true idea of social networking, wherein you are being social with another inside your society and continually building connections based on the previous attention.

By using the social media technology that we are presented with, you are creating a dialogue with little physical interaction. The nuance of interaction has been reduced to a language being presented in short form across the screen you sit in front of. Your interaction is on a device and that device cares not if you smile, respond poorly or enrage at a comment. You are separate from the reality that you have become intertwined with.

Fortune Article – Facebook Fake Accounts

While this last bit may make it very difficult to apply to the people who hold social media accounts in the world of tattooing, we still do not know if what they are showing us is real or not. In this way the reality of the tattoo experience has been augmented so we can trust it to be false if we can spot the irrational use of technology. This accompanies most experiences where people outside of the tattoo industry use technology to augment or enhance their appearance. Real life has become hyper realistic.

When is a Person a Person?

We really don’t know who it is we are seeing out there, or if what they are selling us via their lifestyle or cause is actually as great as it is. Social media is a cult and search engines don’t know what you like or who you are as a person – they only know what you have done before.

Billions (or perhaps trillions) of dollars have been spent building algorithms that predict what you will think, do or want. These intuition based programs are not real. They are built to study populations at large and group them into little bundles that are better focused for advertising and building revenue streams. Think of the internet as the last isle of a supermarket where everything you see is an impulse purchase. The only difference is that we have not trained ourselves to ignore it.

If you do not believe me, ask yourself this – how many advertisements have you seen recently, whether on social media, on a search engine or on a billboard that were focused on delivering you a message to educate versus sell you a product or idea?

Apart from the billboards posting messages about salvation, we are forced to open our minds almost constantly to the messages a company or brand has plastered along the walls of our existence. Every corner of our lives has a space that is for sale.

You can buy into what you are seeing by succumbing to an algorithm or a simulation, or you can think critically about what you are looking at and knowingly interact with such things as they are for entertainment/educational purposes only. (That educational idea is a stretch given certain abuses enjoy spreading misinformation prevalent in the social networks today.)

How do tattoo artists take advantage of these practices? Open up your social media and look at how their profiles are designed. See how many tattoo artists post pictures of the client with the tattoo. I mean, the client is the reason why the tattoo is there so why aren’t they the focus of the tattoo?


Creating a Social Following.

How did all of this come about? How did we lend our intention of validation to these companies that hold our decisions hostage for us? How can a structure or an inauthentic entity become capable of so much influence in society? I have a feeling it is hard-wired into our consciousness; a form of evolutionary machinery responsible for assumptions. These assumptions were useful in prehistory but may be an aspect of our biology that is less helpful now because it is easily manipulated.

Enhancements – Visual Appeals

Taking a look at the social media page you may have opened after reading the questions above, let’s ask ourselves a question.

How many of the photos you see are unedited?


Looking at the insert above, what can you find that doesn’t belong? It isn’t very difficult if you spend more than 5 seconds analyzing the picture but how many of us actually take the time to look at a picture when surfing the global social media landscape?


Social media has developed a technique of increasing engagement by offering a plethora of options to the unencumbered mind. By creating a list and offering up a “randomized” selection of images or data we are forced to scroll through said list to acquire the dopamine releasing object of our desire.

Not only do companies offer up a slot machine experience via social scrolling, they also induce a state of anxiety in those of us who are not locked into the social network 24/7. Notifications, bells, popups… All create a sense of urgency that mimics a fight-or-flight response in the body by using a simple biological response – not wanting to be left behind.

Rating Values

How many of you have taken a look at the reviews of a product and used that information to cement your choice in a product? Clothing, computers, cars, the list is endless when searching the internet for validation that holds little real value.

When we see a rating our social mind creates a platform of decreased critical inquiry – those around us, whether attached to the community or via a digital path, we assume they are a trustworthy source of inspiration and validation regardless their physical state in relation to our own.

According to research, 86% of all people use ratings and reviews to formulate a decision when making a purchase. This is crazy to me!

When confronted with that idea, a few things popped into my mind:

  • First, I have no idea where the review came from – it could be real or purchased.

  • Second, if the reviewer is a real person how an I trust that they look at things the same way I do or that they interpret value in the same way as I.

  • Finally, I have not really thought about the purchase past that fact that I want it.


Followers and Value.

Validation based on the number of followers is of no consequence to some, but has been a point of value to others. The goal for the new, social media fame seekers is to identify an “identity” that easily defines who you are to the members of media based society you wish to impress.

Those without a distinct personality will follow others who have gained a level of success they wish to emulate. By following these people, the new generation becomes like them by mimicking their actions and following their trends. They lift the person of fame up and move the person of their desire to a place where they identify themselves through this other person’s social media existence.

To gain value and build a following, follow these rules – embody the essence of the one you follow; identify with the culture or image of the person you wish to become, spread the ideals you have espoused; gain influence on those that find solace in your identity; identify yourself as the evolution of the person you admire; expand your influence; profit from that image.

This is not exclusive to the social network landscape but is more easily developed when people seeking to better identify their person have encapsulated their personalities in this realm. Assumptions on the effects of such indoctrination create a plausible framework for using the same tactics to influence populations. Dictators and fanatics alike prey upon disillusioned people. They offer hope, guidance and safety to those seeking escape from the world at large. They alienate and separate their followers from those who once identified with them. They control their efforts until they are discovered for what they truly are - false icons.


False Validation and Social Media.

I know it may be a jump to apply the ideas surrounding social networking use to the efforts of advancing the mastery of tattooing but, looking back at these fanciful, branded pages I see, there is little proof what is on display could be reality. If we understand that people can make sponsorship deals with branded companies looking for easily led masses, why wouldn’t a person take advantage of these benefits by attempting to recreate other’s fame? (to what degree is unique – the pay for 1,000 followers is dwarfed by those who have 250,000 followers)

Why do we look towards the “follower” as a way for us to validate things? How did these networks become a place to gain wealth and prestige, and why were they never put under the microscope? Why did we wait until these networks became so big that there is little ability to force it to change its practices?

In the past, if we witnessed a person walking around with 2000+ people, all following their footsteps and chiming in whenever a comment was made – an invasion was taking place. Literally, run for your lives, time to move away and get a new surname because the zombies are here and we are all going to die.

Now, with the disembodiment of our society (along with the influx of fake zombie accounts) we face idolizing the crowd of people who are paid to determine what we should think is cool or fun. A consequence of denying this progress is to become ostracised for our lack of cohesion into what is hip. We follow blindly and take what things to be valid based on a numerical value of thumbs up, stars and hearts.

Followers, rating and amplified images do not equal scientific consensus, they equal something comparable to religious fanaticism.


Real-Life Experience.

“Insert trending insult to the older generations”

Yes, I may be near 40 years of age but, what may have come out as a retort, fresh out of your mind, is proof of clever marketing. Any phrase that is reported to be offensive to some by the media that surrounds us cannot be trusted as a universal truth. Because of the massive saturation, people assume they can use popular phrases knowing that it should strike a chord with some. Before using this new slang or offensive term, ask yourself a few questions:

  • How many people have you said this to?

  • How much of a mess do you feel it will cause?

  • What proof do we have that it is actually an effective argument or label for a person’s status or feelings?

This idea of rebellious, aggressive language had been delivered to you via social networks, or other sources of media. We have no proof that these statements work as they have no physical connection to our existence. We can never be sure it is real unless we make it real.

Reality is formed after the fact. Society receives biased confirmation from others who are viewing the same source and fearing repercussions from real social interaction. What does this mean?

We validate each other mindlessly to ensure a reprieve from confrontation. These confirmations and validations come when we are meeting with friends and looking at the same things, on separate devices. The viewing public has no rational reason to accept what is put before them, but our society functions differently when viewing social interaction through a screen.

When a group comes together in the age of social networks, they unintentionally confirm phenomena that may otherwise be false or irrational, and introduce bias where critical inquiry is necessary. Because this is so pervasive in the world in which we exist, we can work backwards through the collective agency of humankind and qualify the experience of false authority we see in the tattoo industry.

Social Media Poll

How many social media accounts do you have?

See results

Reprograming a Social Following.

Let’s pull apart this idea and think of any group of people that have had experiences far outside the realm of possibility. Reports of supernatural phenomena, spiritual experiences or alien abductions are frequently made by people in the throes of social disorder or when they are asleep.

These people reporting such experiences are so sure that what they have heard, seen or felt is that there is little ability of deniers to offer any refuting information to critique. The only way to force a readdressing of ideas is to remove a person from their biased environment, where their confirmation of ideals and beliefs come from others who may occupy the same emotive experience, and then begin a systematic reprogramming of interpretations.

This space must be “safe” as the subject of such reprogramming will have a difficult time negotiating a complete destabilization of their personality, which was so cemented on the beliefs that were so central to their existence previously.

What does this mean for us in the normal world, where we use instant information for “credible” sources? What about when these credible sources are considered such because of several likes on a screen that represents a value that is intangible?

When you hold a $20 bill in your hand, it is not worth anything. It is a piece of paper that represents something of value. You can trade it for other goods on the guarantee that a federal government (or others) will replace the bill with whatever is of value deemed as equivalent. Is there a reason as to why we can value likes or follows as a currency of validity in the modern world? I believe we cannot, especially when you attach the billions of fake accounts that represent false identities in the space of social network. We cannot give value to things that are disparate aspects of our evolving society unless we are looking for a way to sway opinion efficiently.

When faced with simple things enjoy translating what is written (even if you are fluent in the language), you are forced to separate your emotional state to look at things objectively. When viewing an object that is not “human” the attachment that is formed from the assumption of good to great can be falsely applied based on anecdotal evidence or assumptions of quality based on the information applied by untested sources.


The End: Social Media is Killing Tattoo Shops.

Even before social media became something that swayed the minds and forces of the identity and social exception, the industry in itself was using the media to create an image of what is right or wrong.

One of the most important aspects of this manipulation of society is easily found in the language used to express what we are confronted with – “media”. Historically tattooers and shops used periodicals and various advertising materials to influence the population at large. Through features and spreads in magazines the viewers were taken on a tour de force – the best of the best in the world of tattooing, body modification… hell, any industry is suspect when looking into this format of media.

By being put above another and getting a focus inside an issue, shops in the past could establish an authority – they are the go-to source for quality. Why else would they be featured in an established and respected source such as “Low Rider” or “Tattoo International”?

Now with the invention of social networks, brands and businesses are taking advantage of the same practices that have worked for humankind throughout history.

As we evolve and come under the influence of new forms of media we must ask ourselves one question: How are we being manipulated?


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