Social Media: Big Number Bullying

A number of years ago, I was sitting at a table outside the Ferry Building in San Francisco having lunch with a friend when she saw a business acquaintance of hers. She called him over and asked him how he was doing.

His answer was, "I'm great! This coming Friday I'm throwing a 40th birthday party for myself with my 500 closest friends! You have to come!!"

That's when I was introduced to the idea of what I call "Big Number Bullying." Here's the logic:

  • No one - and I mean no one  - has 500 best friends.
  • Simply by virtue of his seeing her - an acquaintance at most, by her own description - she got invited to be his 501st "best friend."
  • It was never about his turning 40. It was all about how he could claim that he had 500 "best friends." 

He left us abruptly because he saw yet another "best friend" and just had to talk with him. Otherwise, we were sure, had she had the chance to introduce me, I probably would have been invited, too.

Welcome to "Big Number Bullying" - a world of quantity and never quality. A world where it's never about what you have to offer - only how many might hear about it, whether they're interested or not.

It's the world of "Likes" and "Friends" and "Followers" and "Connections" that seem to be the measure by which we are now being assessed on our value.

Bullies, as everyone knows, thrive on making others feel less than. Scared. Incomplete. Unable.

Bullies live in and create a comparative/combative world. Everyone is pitted against everyone else - fighting for the same territory - always against each other.

After all, if you're on the "good" side of the bully, then you don't have anything to worry about. You're protected. For now. Until the next bully comes along.

That's the outcome of social media - because they've created the platforms that lead those who don't know better (i.e., that quality is always more important than quantity) to view themselves based on their numbers.

It's scarcity in reverse. Where advertisers want to create an illusion of scarcity to get people to come, social media scarcity convinces those who don't have the numbers that there's nothing to come to. That they're not worthy.

It's mean. It's bullying. And it always targets - or creates - the vulnerable.

Sadly, today Amazon joined the fray - and is picking on a particularly vulnerable professional group: Authors.

They've introduced "Amazon Author Rank" - where, in your particular category, your popularity number - as an author - is broadcast for all to see.

This isn't about where your book stands in sales in your category or across all their sales. It's about you - and that makes them the newest bully on the block.

What's their purpose? To get authors to feel bad enough about themselves and their standing to spend loads of time trying to get people to buy their books...on Amazon.

Frankly, Amazon doesn't care whether anyone buys your books or not. They just want the authors to spend the time getting people onto their platform so that they'll buy anything. Anything at all.

The ranking number has no meaning. None. Just like that guy's "500 best friends." But, in this case, it's designed to make people feel bad about not being one of the 500.

So what's the lesson? There are two.

First - If you use any form of social media - or if you create in any way - don't think about how the ubiquitous "they" will think about you. F**k them. Stay true to yourself and true to your art.

Second - Bullying in any form is still bullying. Big Number Bullying is just a new, technological way of broadcasting bullying on a global scale. So, if you use social media for personal reasons, do it because you enjoy it. If not - don't spend the time.

After all, given that we have no idea of the quantity of time we have in this life, it's always and only about the quality of life we live.