Tuesday, 11 June 2013

An Old Fashioned Discussion of Social Media Fakery

When the modern world becomes rather too much to bear, if you get my meaning, there is no better refuge for a chap than his gentleman's club. Free from the wearying encumbrances of daily life (especially meddling aunties), the club offers a refuge, where a chap may soothe the troubled soul in an oasis of calm, quiet, and single malt whiskey.

Every proper English gentleman should have a club for his sanctus sanctum, and its traditions are rightly prized. Like most, mine has a strict embargo on discussing affairs of business within club walls, and this is a rule I have always carefully observed. Sadly, when it comes to social media, my fellow members routinely fail to offer me this same courtesy. I fear this is because very few of them consider social media to be a proper business.

Whatever the reason, whenever I'm trying to enjoy a post-luncheon pipe or two in the smoking room, I am constantly having my ear bitten for a bit of free advice about this or that. My only recourse has been to sit with a copy of the Daily Telegraph open at full sail, so to speak, obscuring my presence completely from the waist up. This is normally sufficient, but recently my pipe-smoking meditation was broken by the annoying tap-tap sound of a chap flicking his finger against my newsprint barrier.

"I say, chap," I heard, "I say, is that you? It must be. I'd recognise those brogues anywhere, old top."

Realising the jig was up, I lowered my Telegraph. There before me was a chap holding a whiskey and ginger, leaning forward eagerly from a nearby chair.

"What ho," I said rather wearily.

"Cracking blog post about that Perry Piscione chapette, old plum," continued the whiskey and ginger drinker. "Showed her what for, eh?"

Before I could answer, a chap with a gin and tonic popped up from a nearby alcove. "Rather!" he squeaked. "Top-notch stuff, old plum. Everyone will be thinking twice before threatening you with a legal action again."

I had no plans to give anyone cause to threaten legal action again, of course. I was just preparing to say as much when I was interrupted by another chap with a determined look on his face and an Old Fashioned in his left hand:

"Bally cheek threatening a cease and desist letter like that," the Old Fashioned drinker roared, "but I dare say, I can't understand what inserted the proverbial bee into that chapette's bonnet in the first place. There's nothing wrong with padding one's Twitter account with a few thousand extra followers, is there? Practically everyone is doing it these days. I've bought ten thousand myself, in fact, just last week."

To say the tension in the room could be cut by a knife following this last remark would be a serious understatement. One of those power-chain-saws lumberjacks heft about would  have been required at a minimum. The clinking of ice bumping against glass was the only audible sound as we each waited for someone else to respond first.

"Oh come on now, chaps!" continued the Old Fashioned, realising his comment had been met with silent disapproval. "Do you dare cast a jaundiced eye upon such a harmless procedure? Hypocrisy, I dare say! Bally hypocrisy!"

No one likes being called a hypocrite, of course, but no one felt much like engaging in a strenuous argument either. Fortunately, a rescue was at hand.

"Now see here, old stick," interjected another chap who had been observing proceedings from the other side of the room. He was nursing a drink known in our club as an 'Old Etonian,' which is dashed confusing for purposes of this story, as this particular chap attended Harrow. Still, there it is.

"See here, my good man" continued the Old Harrovian (who, as stated above, was drinking the Old Etonian). "Buying followers on any social media platform is a sordid deceit, and an act unworthy of an Englishman. Everyone knows this, of course, except you apparently. You should be ashamed. Do not try to pass it off as some harmless pursuit. It shakes the very foundation of honourable society."

Despite the general murmurs of agreement emanating from around the room, the Old Fashioned (who for the record was himself and Old Wykhamist) was not put off. He parried the remark with some vigour, in fact.

"Ashamed?! Act unworthy of an Englishman?! My good man, what poppycock!" he frothed. "Withdraw your remarks at once, or this affair shall end badly!"

At this point the Old Fashioned (Old Wykhamist) and the Old Etonian (Old Harrovian) fell into a somewhat messy dispute. As with all messy disputes, reporting them word-for-word would not be helpful for our understanding. I have therefore rendered their respective arguments into a more readable format, removing all interruptions and name-calling. Proceedings open with the case of the chap drinking the Old Fashioned, who as revealed above, was a proponent of the 'fakery is good' school of thought:

"Touching up our profiles, whether in daily life or on social media, is a normal, healthy activity, chaps," he began, addressing the growing throng of members who had rushed into the smoking room to see the cause of the commotion."

"Who among us," he continued, "complains when our tailor uses his magic to reduce the appearance of our waistlines by an inch or two? Is there any man here who admonishes his barber when he obscure areas where coverage is growing thinner? Show me the chap who rebukes his valet for trimming the errant hair protruding from his nostril?"

This last point especially seemed to hit the mark. The Old Fashioned was clearly resonating with his audience.

"Putting one's best foot forward, whether with our appearance or our social manner, is something we do as naturally, and nearly as often, as breathing. It is the same on social media as it is in so-called 'real life.' We augment a bit here, and leave out a bit there. Does this make us scoundrels?

"No one composes posts on Facebook to highlight their personal frailties or to accentuate their faults. No one tweets, "Crikey, I was unreasonably rude to the waiter at the chop house where I had my luncheon. I must be a grumpy old sod." No. We choose what we report on social media selectively, even if it means telling less than the whole truth. We show off our best qualities, enhance them when possible, and downplay any short-comings. Is boosting one's followers by a few score not exactly the same thing? It does not make us frauds.

"I put it to you, chaps, that parting with a few hard-earned to augment one's follower count is no more a crime than asking one's valet to splash a bit of aftershave cologne on the jowls. The manly smell it confers may not be our own genuine scent, but no one is harmed, or even fooled by its presence. I dare say, in moderation it may even bring a modicum of pleasure to a chapette or two."

Although several members turned a slightly red (more red than usual, I should say) at the notion of impressing chapettes, it was clear that the words of the Old Fashioned had struck their mark. One rotund chap holding a hot lemon scotch squirmed visibly in his seat as he contemplated overturning his previously held beliefs. The soliloquy which followed from the Old Etonian (Old Harrovian), however, quickly turned the tide of sentiment in the other direction:

"Your case is well put, old bean, and I withdraw my previous remarks questioning your suitability as an Englishman." At this the Old Fashioned bowed his head slightly, showing that the matter was now forgotten. "But I still must strenuously object to the notion that buying fake followers is on par with removing an overgrown follicle from the nasal passage. Both actions may be intended to render ourselves more appealing to the general populace, but there the similarity ends.

"Imagine, if you will, a world where this sort of practice is taken to its logical conclusion. How could one judge between a good egg and a scoundrel? How could one know if a chap's social media following, his popularity on YouTube, or even if his status as a bestselling author was on the level, or merely a product of judicious purchases? As it stands now, a large social media following and a fleeting presence on the New York Times bestseller list can be yours for less than the cost of a decent graduate degree. By your logic we should be encouraging the youth of today to simply buy their reputations wholesale, not earn them with sweat and toil. After all, even the best MBA does not qualify one to give speeches for £10,000 a pop.

"Shall we stand as bulwarks against these low practices, or shall we meekly cave in on the grounds that 'everyone else is doing it?' Where would that leave us, chaps? Utter chaos, I say. It would only be a matter of time before we would find trumped-up charlatans giving us lunch, getting engaged to our daughters, or applying for membership of this club. Could we bear to live in a society where esteem and influence are a mere matter of opening one's wallet?"

After the Old Etonian drinker had concluded it was generally agreed that both points had been well made. This left the assembled membership, which by this point had swelled to a group exceeding twenty, in a quandary. They were happy to throw in their lot with whichever side appeared to hold the stronger hand, but were currently unsure which way to jump. After a full minute of hesitation a breakthrough was made. "Let's put the matter to Ramsbottom," someone shouted. Everyone agreed immediately.

The attributes of my club's membership secretary, the Hon. W.J.E. Ramsbottom, are discussed at length elsewhere in this blog. In summery, let it suffice to say that he is a pernicious meddler of the top order. But his exasperating insistence on exactitude nevertheless has its place. Like King Solomon of old, Ramsbottom would weigh the matter dispassionately and render a verdict meticulously free of bias. Everyone agreed: only Ramsbottom would do.

A deputation was dispatched, and before long the beaky nose of Ramsbottom was seen poking through the smoking room doorway (followed by the rest of him soon afterwards, of course). Each party marshaled their arguments carefully for his benefit, and after briefly pausing to stroke his pointy chin, Ramsbottom cleared his throat and rendered his judgement:

"Gentleman, although one can clearly see some parallels between the removal of unkempt nostril foliage and the addition of non-standard Twitter followers, I find this in no way justifies the use of social media fakery. Unlike a gentleman's personal grooming, the purchase of fake followers is not meant to flatter, but rather to deceive. Deception, as we all must agree, should never be an accepted practice in polite society.

"Of course, what makes a follower fake and what makes a follower genuine is an important point that appears to have so far escaped discussion. If one leans upon friends and family to 'like' a Facebook page in which they have no genuine interest, are these likes not 'fake' in the truest sense of the word? One frequently sees appeals on various websites from chaps saying they will like or follow anyone as long as the favour is returned. Is this any less disreputable than acquiring followers through outright purchase?"

As usual, Ramsbottom had found several more critical points that had escaped wider attention. I feared he would merely muddy the water further rather than find a resolution. As it turned out, my fears were in vain.

"Although the practice of exchanging likes and follows in a sort of syndicate is not overly desirable, it is difficult to draw a clear distinction between good and bad practice in this instance. Therefore, the line must be drawn at the fashion for purchasing followers and likes for money. When banknotes changes hands, I would argue, a chap has crossed the line from massaging the facts to outright deception. Bona fides should never be something one can purchase online.

"Following this conversation," Ramsbottom continued, obviously warming to his subject,  "I shall also be tabling a motion for the next meeting of the rules committee to this effect. Any members with non-standard social media followings, who therefore risk the good name of this club, would be well advised to start unpicking them now."

Despite his hectoring tone and overly haughty manner, Ramsbottom's judgement was warmly received by all. Even the chap with the Old Fashioned manfully admitted that he had over-egged his position somewhat. Bonhomie and good humour appeared set to rein once more, which was good news as my much-neglected pipe had gone out and needed tending to. Before I could strike the first match, however, Ramsbottom's looming figure reappeared in the doorway.

"I should like to remind members," he began, his nose looking especially beaky as he did, "that discussion of affairs of business is strictly proscribed by club rules, and that any further attempts by Mr Etingchap to discuss his profession in future should be strongly resisted by all."

Then turning to me, he said, "These debates about Twitter and Facebook seem to spring up wherever you go, my good man. Best keep a lid on it or I shall be forced to table a motion of censure before the membership committee."

I was so stunned by this unjust accusation that I was unable to mount any riposte other than indignant sputtering. By the time I had regained my composure Ramsbottom had turned sharply and left the room.

Having witnessed my public rebuke (for which they were responsible, of course) my fellow club members scattered to the four winds. Although feeling distinctly shunned, like an ostracised member of some Amish sect, I was at least finally left alone. I took a deep breath, relit my pipe, and hoisted my Telegraph back into position. It had come at high cost, but I was determined to enjoy the resulting peace and quiet nonetheless.

I was interrupted moments later, however, by the smoking room attendant hovering at my elbow.

"Telephone message, sir. A woman calling herself 'Auntie Sophronia.' She says you are to report to her house immediately, sir. Something to do with 'taking my fat-headed nephew to task,' I fear."

I sighed. Even the club smoking room can only offer a chap so much protection.

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