Generation Like: A Response...


After watching Frontline’s “Generation Like,” I learned that the YouTube pop-universe is far more expansive than I thought. I’ve spent a decent amount of time on YouTube since its inception, but have never heard of these famous kids that were profiled.

A major takeaway of the program was that social media platforms seem to create their own ecosystems. Websites like YouTube have developed a social class hierarchy; highly “liked” and subscribed accounts being on top, with the lesser-knowns trying to carve out their own space in an attempt at recognition. The introduction of likes (or diggs and upvotes, if you go back far enough) created a type of currency within each sphere. The more likes and subscribers a creator has, the more valuable their output becomes.

Perhaps the most interesting part are the transactions that occur between the individual universes of each platform and the real world. For example, subscribers and likes may be the currency of YouTube, but the ability to cash them out into real-world money validates their worth. Having sponsors essentially equates to a marketing position. There are obvious benefactors: companies that create the platforms, businesses that advertise on them, creators that distribute their content on them, and the creators’ sponsors. But then there are also other real-world jobs and third-party businesses that revolve around the platforms...

This demand for social media presence has created thousands of jobs. As of this writing, a search for “social media” on indeed.com returns a whopping 81,150 open positions. “Generation Like” provided a glimpse into the hectic world of scheduling posts for Ian Somerhalder of “The Vampire Diaries.” Oliver Luckett’s company, who manages Ian’s social media, had posts lined up for weeks ahead. The statistics received in return are a gold-mine of their own.

A negative effect is that it’s possible that children are being exploited for financial gain. Of course, unpaid child labor is nothing new, unfortunately. But, the naiveté and enthusiasm with which the children participate is concerning. As a society, we’re quick to lash out at companies that employ children, but seem to gloss over it happening right under our noses. We’re so used to being marketed-to, that the entire marketing system feels like a part of nature. If the kids aren’t physically strained, it doesn’t appear to count. Who knows the mental toll this early exposure and competition is having on the young creators.

In addition to exploitation via labor/marketing, I found a quote from the mother of Daniela Diaz to be particularly disconcerting. When talking about making posts for her daughter on Instagram, she quotes herself saying “wear this, wear this, and I will take the picture, I will tell you how many likes. You’re gonna get over 150.” She then goes on to say, “I hate to say it, but if I have a full body picture, she will get tons of likes, and that’s just the reality.” It’s important to note that Daniela Diaz was 13 years old. The mother clearly identified a problem with the culture, yet still continued to cater to it. As long as this demand exists and is accommodated, the dark underbelly of these systems will go unchecked, further perpetuating the cycle.

If this film were to be shown in other classes, I’d recommend it in both general education and business education. From a business/marketing standpoint, it shows the potential of these platforms for their usage in these areas. In general education it can act as a warning to prevent possible exploitation. At the same time, it can allow the students to “know their worth,” if they’re going to be using these services anyway. Knowledge is power, and like Daniela’s mother said, “that’s just the reality.”


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