Media Literacy and Social Followings

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This is a supplement to the How the Tattoo Shop Became God article. While it mostly focuses on how we view and elect to believe the information proposed by social media and search engines, it does touch on a few aspects of social-client manipulation by the tattoo industry.

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Social Media Literacy and the Global Search Engine

How much sway should influencers or reviews have over us?

How many of those followers you see on influencer accounts are real? The true numbers are most likely far fewer than we see online yet the masses flock to follow people who frame their lives to amass a following.

As a society, many of us have turned our focus inward. Our lives revolve more and more around massive marketing machines that populate our daily errands, work lives, and family time. The insertion of social marketing companies (which I really enjoy labeling social media companies, because that is what they are) are so seamless in our daily lives, our trust in them seems to mirror the faith of the most ardent religious believers globally.

Just as faith would hold the truth of something that cannot be seen over the head of a non-believer; what you can’t see has sway over you when you surf social media.

What is a real person?

With social networking there is no way to know who is real and who is fake. When we surf the web looking for interesting photos, inspiration in our daily lives, we go onto a “profile page” and like, share, tweet, and pass our screens to validate our experience. As this consuming of by-the-second media bites (bytes) flood our serotonin riddled brains we rarely stop to ask ourselves if what we are seeing is real or not.

How do we know any of this digital world is real? Is there a way to qualify the attentions given to reviews, likes or followers when searching through the vast oceans of information we are confronted with during our day to day.

As the marketing companies plastered over our news feeds claim, the answer may surprise you!

If a person with little to no media literacy is given an image (in technicolor!), what reason do they have to not believe what is being shown to them? Why shouldn’t my friend Eric believe that a prince from a nation overseas isn’t willing to give him millions of dollars for assistance opening a bank account?

If Facebook or Instagram claim over 4 billion (4,000,000,000) of its accounts are 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 social media accounts are owned by real people?

The above questions is convoluted to hell but it is the best first question I could come up with early in the morning. It was the question that stuck with me after reading an articles about fake accounts, swaying of a populace during election times, and falsified earning reports to ensure continued investment. Here is an article for ya:

Fortune Article – Facebook Fake Accounts

The idea that a company may cheat or scheme the system seems like something out of a Hollywood movie, but the reality of business interventions in policy are a reality. We have proof! You can go to college and learn how to make this stuff happen. (insert the customary typograph for sarcasm)

If companies are able to lobby for change and gain influence in the world around us, why wouldn’t massive companies like Facebook or Instagram or Twitter reach out to ensure a better bottom line?

This brings us to the fake accounts and validation of what is “real” and what isn’t.

Person Holding String Lights Photo

Maybe you just need a brain?

So, what is real and how can we define it in the world of social media?

This is a question that has been haunting me for the past year or so. I am rewriting this article to gain a bit of clarity and expand on the thoughts I had a while ago. I am also writing more because the first draft of this was shit. Yeah, I will admit that right now. I pushed this brain turd out the door faster than I should have because my brain needed to get ideas on the page before losing them in the ether of my distracted mind.

Defining what is real should be an easy thing to figure out, but in the world of social media a person is forced to question reality. For most of us out there we can only define who is real by meeting them outside social network. If you have a coffee with someone, grab a movie, take a trip to the coast, you can be pretty sure the person you are with is real (if you understand yourself to be real and give credence to reality being outside your own experience… heavy shit, right!?)

So the people you “meet” (yeah I am going to air quote that because, why the hell not?) on social media may never come into your actual, physical, space. You may never meet them, see them as a physical being who takes up space, forgets to bring back the copy of Game of Thrones DVD you lent them, or whose unique aroma after a night of binge drinking permeates your couch for a week or more.

What types of real people are there?

This question is a little tricky. Depending on who you are talking to in the academic or trade world, the answer may change. I broke down the types of people I see out there into 2 groups:

There are those of us out there who take things at face value. New ideas are brought in through their mind’s eye and accepted as truth. What you see is what you get.

The other type of person out there is often labeled as a curmudgeon, trouble maker, question asker, thrill seeker. These people look at new things and see what is possible. What you see is often refutable.

I am not one of the first types people, yet I am fascinated by this and how easily they can adapt to new technologies or ideas. While I am wondering what the chemical make up of a bean burrito is, these people are enjoying the taste sensations and getting filled up.

How can I know how “real” a person is?

Past getting to know a person face-to-face, there isn’t a good way to validate the reality of a person’s existence. Well, unless you believe that things are just as they seem.

By using the social media technology you create a dialogue with little physical interaction and little fact checking. Who says I can’t take a photo of myself and modify a little, changing my skin tone and the background of the image, to create a visually pleasing thing to look at? I mean, the people who follow me know that it is in jest, I would never take my cat to the moon or whatever…

coffe moon cat joke image

You can tell this is fake, right?

How do you know it’s fake?

What is fake and what is really fake?

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 that is not a sentient being, created to know what you want and don’t want… at least not yet.

That device cares not if you smile, respond poorly or enrage at a comment, or lose a loved one. It is a fucking machine and machines don’t care, they just do.Arnold Schwarzenegger: The next 'Terminator' movie will fix the franchise - Business Insider

Yeah, yeah. I know, I am getting way out there and possibly applying the idea that EVERYONE on social media is a fake. Nah bruh, I am totally not saying that.

What I am claiming is most of the people we see on social media are lying or fake.

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 can’t validate what we see as real. In a way the reality of the tattoo experience has been augmented so much (at times) the images we see can’t mimic reality.

What we can do is be skeptical and deem the image to be fake, if we can spot the use of technology to augment the reality we are being presented. This accompanies most experiences where people outside of the tattoo industry use technology to augment or enhance their appearance, create a false narrative, or utilize language to propagandize the relationship we have with one another.

Real-life has become hyper-realistic.

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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; they only know (store) 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 on advertising and building revenue streams. Think of the internet as the last aisle 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?

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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 the said list to acquire the dopamine-releasing object of our desire.

Not only do companies offer up a slot machine experience via social scrolling, but 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 I trust that they look at things the same way I do or that they interpret the value in the same way as I.
  • Finally, I have not really thought about the purchase past that fact that I want it.
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The Following Which Offers 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 to 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.


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 of 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.

Photo by Chris J Mitchell on

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 in 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.

Almost Back on Topic

“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. Our society receives biased confirmation from others who are viewing the same source and fearing repercussions from real social interaction. What does this mean?

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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 backward through the collective agency of humankind and qualify the experience of false authority we see in the tattoo industry.


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 ideas and beliefs come from others who may occupy the same emotive experience, and then begin a systematic reprogramming of interpretations.

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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 the social networks. 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.

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Defining the Shop as a God and How Social Media Makes it Possible.

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?