088 Marie Heřmanová and the influencer culture

We sat down with a social antropologist Marie Heřmanová with a focus on digital anthropology, the internet and research on online identities and communities to talk about researching the influencer culture, influencers, platforms, credibility of the influencers, but also about fake news, propaganda and hate speech, related to them.

What she is most interested in about conspiracy theories is why they thrive so well on social media, how they function in online space, who meets them there, how this affects online communities, and what role the algorithms of digital communication platforms play in the spread of conspiracy theories.

She is also interested in what connection can be found between conspiracy theories and the socio-economic conditions of those who spread them, and what role digital inequalities play in this.

Transcript of the episode:

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00:00:06 Domen Savič / Citizen D
Welcome everybody. It’s the 10th of May 2023 and you’re listening to this citizen D episode podcast. Wow. Citizen Day Episode podcast episode of Citizen D podcast on the 15th of May 2023 with us today is a researcher in the field of digital anthropology, Marie Heřmanová, who focuses, among other things on the issues of influences, their sociological and political impact and general klout. So welcome Marie, and welcome to the show.

00:00:37 Marie Heřmanová
Well, thank you for inviting me.

00:00:39 Domen Savič / Citizen D
Let’s go broad. It’s story time, and let’s first address the origin story of influencers. There’s been quite an uptick of these so-called or actual influencers in the in the past few years. I’ve I’ve read somewhere that young people these days don’t want to be firemen, they don’t want to be nurses, they don’t want to be doctors. They want to be influencers when they grow up. So if we label the humans of late 21st century as as homo computerus, where do influencers come into the mix?

00:01:19 Marie Heřmanová
So what is the origin story? Just now that you mentioned all of this research or data floating around like you know 80% of the kids actually want to be Youtubers, I always look into it and I have never seen like a proper research to actually, you know, back up this data. It’s usually just some media outlet that did some sort of survey on their website or something like that, so I’m just saying I’m not actually sure if that’s true that 80% of the kids want to be influencers, but it’s probably true that a lot of the kids or a lot of young people see this as a sort of viable career for them.

The origin story? So influencers as a profession or as a position of authority is tied with what we call the user generated content platforms. So it’s not just, you know, one-dimensional relationship from the producer to the consumer of the message, but where everyone can become a producer as well. I think the first generation of what we could call today influencers were Youtubers, so early Youtubers, you know, it was mostly like entertainment content and gamers. I think gamers were the first big group of influencers.

But I think the real origins of the influencer culture as we know it now was with Instagram, so it was after 2010 and I would say the peak was maybe like 2015 probably. So I would say from 2010 to 2020, there was a decade of the influencers. It might be now coming to an end. That’s another interesting question.

So I think that’s the origin story. And I think it also makes sense that, you know, if we have these platforms than everyone can sort of become an authority bottom up. So that’s what created the influencer

Another interesting question is about the influencer word itself. We don’t really have a good definition, and there are some researchers that are saying it’s not even a good word for what we are trying to describe because influence is a one way relationship from someone who is active to a passive audience, and that’s not the case with the influencers

This is a multidimensional relationship that that they are in in direct touch with their audiences.

00:04:12 Domen Savič / Citizen D
You’ve opened up a lot of talking points, so my next question would be the media representation of influencers, right? So how is is? How is this fueling and at the same time, how is it sort of slowing down the influencer industry?

Because I would guess or based on on my knowledge of, let’s say the media representation of influencers in Slovenia is that it’s it’s very one sided, right. So there is these stereotypes about influencers shilling for their brands, we had a little bit and we’re going to touch upon that later on a little bit of controversy of influencers during the pandemic. But generally speaking the general, the mass media, the old media is very one-trick pony when it comes to to asking or representing the influencer culture. So what are some of the what is the media getting right about them and where does the media totally completely I mean totally misses missed the mark on on influencers?

00:05:19 Marie Heřmanová
I mean it’s difficult for me to judge it from a sort of global point of view, but from what I see in the Czech Republic, and I would say probably, you know, Slovak, I would say the central Eastern Europeans. I think most journalists just missed the point completely.

I think you were right that there is a lot of sort of stigma around the word influence, right? It’s also interesting that when I talk with them and do my interviews, none of them ever said to me, I am an influencer. They hate the word. They don’t want to be called an influencer.

That’s also an interesting point, I said because there is this sort of general stigma that these are just, you know, really vain people, just being on their phone all day, taking selfies and being paid huge amounts of money for it, which is obviously not an accurate picture of what they do. At this point it’s a profession.

It’s a job, just like any other and here are people who are doing a good job and there are people who are doing a bad job. Obviously the people who are doing the bad job, which could mean that, you know, they have this really bizarre, ridiculous ads or badly done brand corporations or they’re just spreading fake news and propaganda and obvious like conspiracy theory.

So this is where the media usually start their reporting – that influencers are people who have big audience and they’re just telling nonsense and there’s usually some sort of moral panic about it. But that is just, you know, one aspect of it and the same as if you have journalists who are doing a really bad job and you have influencers who are doing a really bad job, but you also have a lot of influencers who are doing a really good job and who really have managed to build some sort of authority and who really communicate in a really interesting way with their audiences.

For example, what I have seen happening in the Czech Republic and it was very visible – we had presidential elections few months ago and in the campaign leading to the presidential elections, it was really visible that, you know, there were influencers who were participating in the campaigns, some of them were probably and that’s another interesting issue, some of them probably being paid by the teams, by the by the marketing teams of the presidential candidates, some of them are just, you know, expressing their support and for me, it sort of looked like that the journalists were freaking out a little bit because look, now they are basically a competition now, like there are people who have access to information, who have access to big audiences and who are doing podcasts and who are doing their own shows and who are writing newsletters and people are not reading, you know what I’m writing anymore? They are just listening to influencers.

So for me, that was a really interesting point where journalists were really like something is really going on here. And we probably cannot just look at these people as you know, like marketing channels anymore and just make fun of them because this is getting serious and they were freaking out a little bit.

00:08:42 Domen Savič / Citizen D
Why do you think that happens? So why do you think the audiences started to move away from, let’s say, the mainstream traditional, whatever you may call it old media outlets, and focusing more on these firebrands on these people with microphones and cameras talking to them online. What happened there?

00:09:07 Marie Heřmanová
I don’t think there’s one reason you can pinpoint like it’s it’s all part of bigger shifts in, the whole media ecosystem and the whole media landscape, I would say. But obviously I think one of the reasons like it, you know, general reasons like we have issues definitely in the Czech Republic, we have big issues with you know, declining trust in the media.

One of the reasons why influencers are now becoming competition for journalists is and that’s a big part of authenticity, obviously, because they have a completely different relationships with their audience that based on authenticity that’s based on this really strong para-social relationship where you feel like, you know the person. You trust them because they’re being really transparent about who they are, what they do on an everyday basis. So it’s a really different sort of relationship.

Also, a lot of the influencers are, you know in age or in just, you know, social standing really close to their audiences so they are also able to translate the news and translate the political events in a language that is more fun and accessible to their audiences.

I think it’s also the general shift in you know in how we consume content on the Internet, what we are interested in and it has to do with you know the general content hyper separation, the information disorder.

If you go go on the Internet today, you know, it used to be, I am so old that I remember the Internet in those days where you just opened a feed on Facebook and you actually got some interesting stuff. You got the news and maybe you open Twitter and you were following journalists and you could actually get your news in this way, but that that’s not the case anymore.

Now it’s so much content, most of it it ads, most of it is like algorithmic content that you’re not interested in at all, and I think what the influencers are doing is a really good job is that they are being they are now in a position of sort of curators of the content.

So you pick people that you know, that you like that have a charisma, that appeal to you. You pick people that are sort of are interested in the same type of content that you are and they do the job for you.

So you follow your influencer, digital opinion leader, writer, podcaster, whoever, and you know that you know, if I follow this person, I will get the content that I’m interested in and I don’t have to look at all the garbage in my feed to find what is interesting, so it also has to do with how the whole you know how Internet works, how the media landscape works, and what we expect from it.

00:11:55 Domen Savič / Citizen D
Before we move on, I wanna I want to touch on on the subject of authenticity. So you’ve mentioned one of the reasons that people are shifting towards the influencer media outlets. Let’s call them that is because authenticity but on the other side you see a lot so-called debunking videos where the influencers are showing the their audience their true selves in terms of “Here’s what it here’s what I need to do before I appear in front of the camera,” “It’s not all real, it’s fake,” … There’s a lot of setup involved in.

00:12:30 Marie Heřmanová
But that’s part of, isn’t it? That’s a strategy of how to be more authentic that you show all, the work behind it.

00:12:40 Domen Savič / Citizen D
True, but only some of them are doing it so I’m guessing that people who aren’t doing that aren’t being authentic, or am I wrong?

00:12:48 Marie Heřmanová
Well, that’s such a great question and we have written a whole book about authenticity so I could talk about this for ages really.

00:12:53 Domen Savič / Citizen D
Go, go, go.

00:12:55 Marie Heřmanová
But I think authenticity is so interesting because really in in online communication and influence, the communication specifically, it’s a buzzword, it’s, you know, it’s the Holy Grail, because it works right?

Because if you manage to, if you’re presence on a platform such as Instagram or YouTube or Twitter or wherever, if your presence feels authentic to your audience, then this is what enables to you to, you know, have some sort of social capital that you can then turn into economic capital. So this is what makes you a good influencer.

But I think, I have to use the word sorry, authenticity is social construct, right? It’s not a thing. It’s not a state that you can achieve once and then you will be authentic forever. It’s a really dynamic process.

It’s a performative process as well. What you just mentioned – so influencers are aware that is important part of their you know, self presentation of social media. So they develop all these strategies how to sort of enhance their authentic performance.

So just showing you know the note filter photos showing the behind the scenes videos for example what you just described. And what is really interesting about authenticity in on social media and in influencer communication that you know, it’s this dynamic negotiation.

Like, what do we agree on that, we feel this is authentic and the change is so it’s it’s not a static thing, it’s it’s a process that gets negotiated every day between the producers and their audiences and I think this is what’s so interesting about it.

There’s this paradox like we know that the influencers are doing it, that it’s a performance that they want to appear authentic to us. So it’s staged a little bit, so it shouldn’t be authentic, but it still feels authentic to us. So it’s this interesting paradox and interesting process of negotiating where are the boundaries of of authentic performance.

So yeah, really interesting question.

00:15:05 Domen Savič / Citizen D
But yeah, and to follow up… so you’ve mentioned the early days of of the Internet or the early days when when content was still king and I wanna follow up with a question on how did the influencers move from this brand related communication towards a more let’s say political piece.

So it it seems that that there was a shift in the middle where influencers were not just reviewing makeup, toys, games and commenting on on, let’s say products or services, but they moved, towards commenting like actual like political events or events that were that were happening in the more general media landscape.

So what happened there?

00:15:59 Marie Heřmanová
This is really interesting question again, because what I’m interested in right now in in my current research project is specifically this shift like to what we can what we could probably call political influencers, even though, yeah then it really depends how you define politics, how you define influencer. So it’s it’s an interesting debate, but yes.

I think because influencers when I mentioned you know we dates the first peak of the info answer culture to you know, 2010, 2012 just as I mentioned. So in those days influencers were mostly like marketing channels, really just doing lifestyle content then working with lifestyle brands and you know, talking about food and cosmetics and travel and I think the shift maybe started, you know, before the pandemic, it definitely started before the pandemic.

But again, in the Czech Republic, it might have been similar in in Slovenia as well, I think this really accelerated with the pandemic.

And that is because, one thing I think most of the research that we have on the notion of political influencers or social media personalities turning like political readers or political opinion leaders is from is about the far right political influencers. So most of the research that we have would be on the American outright or generally outright far right groups in the English speaking world.

So in a way, the research is a little bit biased, but it also makes sense because these groups tend to be really progressive in the way they use social media so they were really like the alt-right Youtubers, they were really sort of, you know, they invented this whole type of political communication, I would say.

And the mainstream and the left is only slowly catching up, but also the reason why it all accelerated during the pandemic is because… I have actually written an article about this where I used this concept of politicization of the domestic. Which means that if you are a lifestyle influencer, I don’t know a mom influencer and you talk about, you know, raising your kids and you talk about products for the kids or their outfits, whatever.

But then overnight you are in a situation when you know the lifestyle disappears. You can’t go out with the kids, there’s no reason to get dressed or anything, but at the same time these everyday decisions, such as you know, will I go grocery shopping to the supermarket? Will we go on holiday? Will we organize a play date for kids?

These everyday decisions, they basically became part of the political debate because, you know, within the context of the pandemic and the entire pandemic restrictions, you had to defend them. You have to explain why I decided to actually go out with my kids, because this is my opening and on this and this, this is this is how I see, you know, the government decision to restrict people going out, for example.

So what I had this was really interesting for me to follow because I started my poster project beginning of 2020, then the pandemic started like you know, March 2020. So I have really have been able to follow it in in real time and for a lot of the influencers and specifically women influencers, this was sort of an opportunity how to really use their authority for the first time and how to really use this sort of influence and this sort of really strong relationship that they have with their communities.

And it was for the first time that they felt like, you know, I have, I have a say in this. I have a voice and I feel responsible to use this voice.

So yeah, I think the pandemic really played a big role in it, but there’s no going back. We are now in this really interesting situation, where influencers are more and more influential in political communication and the same time, a lot of journalists, a lot of politicians, are also adapting more and more of influencer communication strategies.

So yeah, I don’t have any interesting observations about this yet, but this is what I’m interested right now. We are probably heading to some sort of completely new type of bottom up grassroots digital authority, so it will be really interesting to follow.

00:20:41 Domen Savič / Citizen D
OK, so so so first question right off the bat. Why is there such a huge difference between the alt right or the right wing influencers, the right wing politics and the left wing politics? Why are the left wingers playing catch up with the basically the alt-right Neo Nazis in this area?

00:21:01 Marie Heřmanová
I don’t know. You know, maybe there is a good answer to this question, but maybe I’m not the right person to answer it because I’m not an expert on far-right, politics. But I think this is also because there might be a bias in the research that there is a tons of research on the far right. We don’t have as much research on how, for example, you know like this political group are using Internet for political messaging, for activism. I think you know if you think about how populism works, then social media is sort of, you know, there there’s tons of research about how social media enabled populists to sort of rise and grow and create a strong relationship with their audience.

Because this is where they try it. If populism is about positioning yourself as the voice of the people, and now you have this communication tool where you can talk to the people and then you can pretend you are really like one of them because you don’t need the mediators, you don’t need intermediaries such as journalist or the established institutions than are built into the system, you can skip all this, then this is obviously what populist try to do in this environment.

So I think that’s that’s one of the reasons. It’s kind of difficult to say I think because we, even though the research is, as I’m say, we don’t have the same data that we have about the far right as we have about the life, political, online communication, even though it’s changing obviously and we definitely don’t have enough research about these things.

For example, in our languages in the central Eastern European spaces, most of the research is from the US or from English speaking online spaces. We’re just getting part of the picture, but from what we know, usually the far right groups are just less concerned with propagandist tactics and they’re less concerned with spreading fake news and disinformation.

If you look at the numbers, the right wing political activists are spreading more information that can be labeled at disinformation and fake news. So that’s one of the reasons as well, that they’re probably just care about less or that’s that’s a very easy explanation.

But we could say they care less about if what they’re saying is actually true. They just care about that it works on the Internet, but I’m not sure if that’s the whole story.

00:24:08 Domen Savič / Citizen D
So to sum it up, stupid sells, right?

00:24:12 Marie Heřmanová
Obviously, but that was always true even before the Internet.

00:24:16 Domen Savič / Citizen D
So you’ve mentioned different platforms, right, you we talked about Facebook, Instagram, there’s there’s a lot of other platforms that are that are that are living off the influencer culture.

I wanna hear your thoughts on on the role of platforms in, in this development of influencer culture right?

I just recently I saw a brand of of cameras pitching to the audience “This is the perfect camera for an influencer”, right? So you have platforms, you have technology, you have gadgets, you have IKEA furniture for, for influencers. So, how big or what’s the role of of these platforms supporting this, should we say, influence our economy influencers? Job, social, social aspects, living style. So everything is influencer right?

00:25:21 Marie Heřmanová
That’s a really good question again. Because it’s always like a really dynamic relationship between the users and the platform, and you can see for example that I think one of the reasons why Facebook lost most of its relevance in the recent years is because they, the platform never managed to build a good relationship with the type of influencers that were on Facebook.

If you compare it to YouTube or Instagram where you know the Instagram is debatable lately, because I think it’s also losing relevance and it’s one of the people is that they didn’t manage to establish a stable and really reliable environment for the influencers to make their living and to sort of rely on the platform that it will enable them to make a living and on Instagram influencers are mostly complaining about the algorithm and they’re fighting with the algorithm.

So you can see that when the platforms sort of early on when the people behind the platform and when tech people and when the algorithm algorithm developers, when they managed to sort of predict or not to predict really, but when they manage to see, OK, so there is this group of people who are bringing a lot of audience and a lot of clicks and a lot of you know potential ads audience to our platform.

So how can we keep them here and how can we make their life easier.

So this is what YouTube got further early on because there was a way how to make money directly from YouTube on the platform, not from the beginning, but very early on this, for example, never happened on Instagram like there’s no way to support someone directly on Instagram, right? You don’t earn any money from just people being on your profile or seeing your reels or seeing your posts.

TikTok is also using the Creative fund and you can make some money. It’s not much, but you can make money from TikTok because if you manage to get a certain number of views, then there is a way how you can work directly with the platform. So I think this is really important.

But at the same time the platforms play a huge role, but for me it’s an interesting relationship because the I think the platforms and the people behind the platforms, they have the power for so long, the relationship was always sort of asymmetric that the platform, you know, there are these huge companies that basically monopolize the Internet and the individual users have very little power and very few ways how to impact what is going on on the platforms and I think this is shifting a little bit.

Because you have this whole new way of communicating, because this whole new generation of influencers, generations of digital opinion leaders are working cross platforms so they build their presence on on several platforms at the same time and they’re also trying to monetize their content and keep their audience in different ways, they’re moving to various subscription platforms such as Patreon or Substack.

There’s a lot of diversity and I think the platforms are slowly like, they’re not really losing their power. But I think the platforms you didn’t manage to catch up with these influences, they’re losing. It happened on Facebook, it’s now happening on Instagram.

It will be really interesting to see where YouTube and TikTok are going with this, but I don’t think because the influencer culture you know as we have known it for the past 10 years was tied to this like there are these huge mainstream platforms.

Everyone is on the same platform, so there is the possibility to build a really big audience on one platform and make a lot of money. That is not true anymore.

I don’t think this will be true in the future that you know, the Internet is splitting into smaller communities, smaller platforms, so the influencers are also adapting, they’re communicating in different ways and they’re diversifying how they work with their audiences.

So, yeah, again, it will be interesting to observe how this develops in the future.

00:30:00 Domen Savič / Citizen D
So would you say like listening to you talk about the splitting of the Internet or splitting of the audience, would you say that the same thing that that happened to the mass media in regards to the influencers is now happening to the influencers in regards to let’s call them micro influencers?

00:30:21 Marie Heřmanová
Hmm, good question. Yeah, maybe.

00:30:24 Domen Savič / Citizen D
Cause I remember like my degree from journalism was on the issue of blogs back in 2008 I think and I in the conclusion of this I basically wrote about giving creed or giving clout to individual bloggers in terms of OK, the mass media will lose the audience when the audience will delegate the relevance factor to individual bloggers, and they’ll take away the relevance factor from the, let’s say, the mass general media.

So in the influencer economy, let’s call it that, using the most broad term for this type of activities is probably the way I see it going the same way, right. So you’re losing, platforms are spreading or, you know, dividing audiences.

Influencers are turning into these digital workers that are trying to game the algorithm and they’re trying to get ahead of the game and at the same time, the audience is basically, you know, disappearing or splitting up because nobody or that’s my, let’s say, educated guess, is present on all platforms at the same time, right?

So we’re all like the older people are moving towards, you know, Facebook, and I’m not gonna even say Twitter, I’m just going to say Facebook and the younger ones are…

00:32:05 Marie Heřmanová
Because we don’t know what will happen with Twitter tomorrow.

00:32:09 Domen Savič / Citizen D
True, true.

00:32:10 Domen Savič / Citizen D
Twitter is quite risky.

00:32:12 Domen Savič / Citizen D
Quite risky at the moment, and it’s even worse because there’s no actual like for political influencers, there’s no, at least in Slovenia. Let’s say there’s no there’s no genuine replacement for Twitter right now. So where do you, where do you want to go, right?

00:32:27 Marie Heřmanová
That is actually such a good example for what we’ve just discussed and one of the things, or one of the many things I would say that Elon Musk probably doesn’t get about the platform that he bought, is that that the big users, the Twitter influencers…, you know, the whole mess with the blue check marks and with verification on Twitter, so that how do you know, if you are now looking at the real profile or not?

But also, paying for the subscription and that was one of the reasons, if you have these people who really bring the attention and really make the audience stay on your platform that you need these people.

You have to enable them to make money off the platform, otherwise they’ll go elsewhere. You have to enable them in some way to be verified to really prove to their audiences that this is legit.

So I think this is a really great example of how the platform is losing relevance because that’s one of the many reasons why the platform is losing relevance. But because they just didn’t get this main concept like, you know, who are the influencers? Why do I need these people on my platform?

But you asked, sorry, I I interrupted you asked about the splitting of the audiences and there’s this interesting term like niche influencers, influencers that are sort of gaining relevance and they’re, you know, people who have maybe smaller community.

But they have a they have a community that’s really dedicated to some niche issue and it could be an anime series or knitting or crocheting… It doesn’t really matter, so or it could be a PC game, whatever.

We can see this process where these again as I said, I think the era of big platforms with big influencers with huge audiences, basically people like mainstream people who are trying to be as specific as possible and talk about everything to everyone… I think this is really over and we are now looking for people who have the same interest as you?

And you are trying to look for communities where you can, you know, follow these specific interests and I think younger people today or generally the future of Internet, is that you have many profiles on many different platforms and you don’t expect to get all the content or everything you want from one specific place.

You have a server on discord where you discuss your favorite game, or you are on Tumblr because you are part of fandom, then you are on Instagram because you follow people there who talk about books, then you get your for you page on TikTok that serves you whatever you are interested in. Then maybe you follow some people doing cultural analysis on YouTube, but you sort of curate whom you follow and you don’t look for these big names. You look for people who have really created this particular niche that is interesting for you.

But at the same time this is really important because I think these more, you know, these communities and some of the newer platforms, for example, Discord, they work with privacy and anonymity in a different way.

So most people on Discord, for example, you don’t use your real name, right? It’s very different; the presentation and the communication and the interaction you have there; it’s very different from how you present yourself from Instagram or Twitter, even when it’s all about like building a personal brand.

So again, that’s another thing that I think it’s a matter of the past, the personal brands on Internet.

But at the same time, if you are in this small niche community, probably the relationship you have with other people in the community and to the leader of the community, to the niche influencer is much stronger. And it’s a, it’s a really, you know, tight knit relationship.

And then the way these niche influencers influence their communities is probably much more complex and interesting than what we’ve seen with these big influencer names.

So that’s, another part of the problem I would say.

00:37:26 Domen Savič / Citizen D
We’re slowly wrapping up and I and I just wanna touch upon the previously mentioned COVID pandemic, the fake news propaganda conspiracy theories. So we’ve just said that different platforms enable sort of or offer support to different types of of influencers. You have platforms that are more suited for, I don’t know, game reviews for that are more suited for political analysis or comments.

So why do you think the propaganda conspiracy theories, fake news, hate and everything else works on every platform. So when you look on Twitter, Tumblr, Twitch, the myriad of platforms that are present you always find haters literally everywhere.

00:38:26 Marie Heřmanová
It’s a very universal emotion, isn’t it? But yes, you have good content, bad content, interesting content, rubbish content, you know, positive content and hate content everywhere. But I think it’s all on all of the platforms, but it works and it manifests and it impacts the users on every platform in a really different way.

I read somewhere that the only platform or that the least hateful platform is actually Pinterest. And it was a study that I read, and it’s actually an interesting example because Pinterest and I didn’t know about it before and it’s definitely worth looking into, because Pinterest was actually very strict from the beginning about regulations and about banning and certain type of content and they actually managed to build a platform that is pretty safe for a lot of people now, which is interesting, but it’s not a mainstream platform and I think this gets more and more difficult to figure.

I think the easy or the easiest, the most straightforward, but I think also probably the most useful answer to the question that hate is everywhere because people are everywhere, and because the hateful content is there.

It’s interesting to see and discuss how the features and the technical affordances of the platform and some platforms enable hate content to spread faster and further than on some other platforms.

But the hate is there because there are bad actors and there are propagandists or they are paid propagandists, or they’re just bad actors, or they are just psychopaths everywhere who just, you know, this is the most effective communication tool that we have right now, so obviously the bad actors are going to use these communication tools, so a part of it is about how the platforms handle it.

But the reason that we have hate everywhere is because we have the reasons for people to be hateful and I think this is a very common mistake that we that we sometimes make that all polarization in the society, a lot of toxic content, then this is all because of Facebook or because of Meta or because of TikTok. And let’s just bend the platform and just regulate the platform. But the platforms they do not really create these inequalities and these problems in the society, they just make them more visible and they just offer tools for the people to get their frustration out.

But even if we ban the whole Internet, the inequalities and the reasons why people feel the need to hate on other people, the reasons for this are elsewhere.

00:41:28 Domen Savič / Citizen D
So that’s my my second final question. Citizen Citizen D Podcast has many final questions.

So I just wanna sort of steer you down this road that you’ve you’ve just started. So the platform regulation, let’s say political debate, that is going on right now, right, you have platforms that are basically saying something similar to to your words just now, saying we are not responsible for the hate that goes on our platforms.

On the other hand, you have critics that are saying, you know, you’re not responsible per say, but your, you know, your algorithms and your your inner workings are sort of amplifying the hateful rhetoric.

So how do you see the current debate around regulation, self and co regulation going? Is it going in in an I’m not gonna say the right direction… I’m going to say in an effective direction to sort of limit or to sort of this type of behavior online.

00:42:38 Marie Heřmanová
You know, I think there is the problem really is I wouldn’t say the platforms aren’t responsible. Obviously they are and I think it’s their obvious argument like “We’re just the platform. We’re not responsible for the content”, I think that’s bullshit from my point of view.

But the reason why I was saying it is because people sometimes… they just don’t want to look at why are people so frustrated. So they just blame it on Facebook and that’s not productive, that’s not going to solve anything.

So that’s that. That’s one important point, but the other one is, the platforms work in the attention economy. So they are private companies and their main, you know, the reason why they exist are profits.

But at the same time, these platforms are now basically, their function in the society is resembling the sort of public infrastructure. And I think this is where we get the problem. So we have actors, we have platforms. They mostly just want to, you know, gain money. But how they work in the society and what they provide to the society is something that we all sort of, you know.

We now rely on as a sort of public infrastructure that we need for political discussion, that we need for the functioning of the society and we consider it integral to be part of the democratic processes, and this is.

This is the problem because you can regulate, you should regulate and you know, for example, as I see it, the DSA and the DMA and the European legislation, from my point of view, I’m not an expert on and policy expert, but from what I know about it, I think it is going into the right direction and it’s definitely the most progressive legislation around it, if you compare it to other countries, if you compare it, for example to the US, I think the European Union is doing a lot of… It’s definitely discussing it a lot and doing a lot of interesting attempts, so I would say yes, it’s going to right direction, but it’s perhaps too slow and it won’t solve this basic paradox that it’s really the way how hate speech and toxic content gets spread on social media.

It’s built into the business models of the platforms and in order to really do something about, the final regulation really would be to turn them into something completely different, it would be to say look, your main goal, your aim why you exist, is not to make money from ads, but it’s to serve as public infrastructure, and that’s a really difficult discussion.

And do you even want to do this again? In the free market, democratic society, can you turn, you know, private company, can you push them into this direction? Obviously you can’t. There’s just not enough political pressure that just I don’t see a political will to do this, but I think we have to acknowledge this, there’s no way around it.

The business model of the platforms, part of the business model is that toxic content will always be spread on the platforms unless you really turn the whole model into something completely different.

00:46:14 Domen Savič / Citizen D
I think I think this is the perfect conclusion to to to our episode. We always try to end up on a positive note, even though we’re usually talking about things that don’t have many positive notes in them, so thank you so much Marie for dropping by and best of luck with with your future endeavors.

00:46:36 Marie Heřmanová
Thank you so much and thank you for inviting me. It was a pleasure to talk to you.

Citizen D advice:

  • Rethink the role of the influencers in the media/politics industry
  • Focus on niche and quality metrics
  • Consider the influencers as a political tool and power

 More information:

  • Politicisation of the Domestic: Populist Narratives About Covid-19 Among Influencers – article
  • Cultures of Authenticity – book
  • Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life – website
  • Alternative Influence: Broadcasting the Reactionary Right on YouTube – analysis

About the podcast:

Podcast Citizen D gives you a reason for being a productive citizen. Citizen D features talks by experts in different fields focusing on the pressing topics in the field of information society and media. We can do it. Full steam ahead!

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