Performance and Morality

The Development of Inauthentic Social Media Democracy

Unlike any form of content that has been readily available to the general public, social media platforms rely heavily on the use of algorithms in order to tailor the content displayed to the user’s particular taste. In the simplest of terms, algorithms function by collecting user data and finding patterns in behavior in order to suggest content that will better help the users replicate the same patterns over and over again. By interacting with posts, the user creates instructions, which the algorithm then follows to create a curated feed (Hickman). For example a person more prone to commenting on posts aligning with liberal or left wing belief systems will be more likely to see similar kinds of posts, while those who subscribe to right wing ideology will be subject to more content that align with their personal beliefs. What this leads to in the grand scheme of social media are large concentrations of a singular belief system in a person’s social media feed. Rather than allowing for an exploration into belief systems outside of one’s own, curated feeds create a sort of echo chamber in which the same beliefs are repeated back upon themselves and warped into increasingly controversial opinions (Wojcieszak and Muntz). In this case, rather than promoting democratic debate and the authentic development of political beliefs, social media exacerbates preexisting beliefs and provides validation for all sides of the political spectrum depending on the content a user engages in. 

Furthermore, on the basis of authentic development of politics and social justice ideals, the inherently consumer based formatting of social media often does not lend itself to genuine creations of beliefs. Because social media content that gains traction is able to be monetized, and algorithms share the content that is most engaged with, it stands to reason that people will create content that will best cater to what appeals to their audience to gain traction with algorithms in order to turn a profit. With the political spectrum leaning further and further left, it stands to reason that content creators will mimic these trends in order to gain a following regardless of the beliefs that they hold personally. Jonathan Haidt and Tobias Rose-Stockwell employ the term “moral grandstanding” in their Atlantic article to emphasize the phenomenon of using political beliefs to garner increased validation and engagement from an audience (Haidt and Rose-Stockwell). In the process, important facets such as nuance, compassion and understanding of opposing beliefs are lost in favor of sparking outrage and drawing attention. Another term commonly used to describe the co-opting of political causes in order to gain a moral high ground and a successful platform is performative activism. The most widespread example of performative activism came following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police officers. In solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, many celebrities, influencers, and social media users alike participated in “Blackout Tuesday” where the only social media content that was supposed to be posted was a single black square in order to better amplify the voices of Black protestors. The simplicity of the movement allowed people to do the bare minimum and still gain the moral standing of “supporting” a cause. This encapsulates how performative activists use social media as a means to perform allyship with little real substantial good. Any real benefit from the Blackout Tuesday event were donations made to established Black Lives Matter organizations. (Thimsen). The deep inauthenticity and self interest that come along with performative activism and moral grandstanding encapsulate exactly why social media does not provide the adequate foundation to accomplish democratic change. 

There are a multitude of benefits that come with social media, including connection, education, entertainment, and exposure to other cultures. However, the very structure of social media stemming from algorithm organized feeds and engagement based monetized platforms do not provide adequate discussion and contrast of differing authentic ideas for true democracy to properly develop. 

Works Cited

Haidt, Johnathan, and Tobias Rose-Stockwell. “The Dark Psychology of Social Networks.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 3 May 2022, 

Hickman, Leo. “How Algorithms Rule the World.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 1 July 2013, 

 Thimsen, A. Freya. “What Is Performative Activism?” Philosophy & Rhetoric, vol. 55, no. 1, 2022, pp. 83–89,

Wojcieszak, Magdalena E., and Diana C. Muntz. “Online Groups and Political Discourse: Do Online Discussion Spaces Facilitate Exposure to Political Disagreement?” Journal of Communication , vol. 59, no. 1, 26 Mar. 2009, pp. 40–56.,

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