A Clean Slate

For many of us, our social media profiles have been cultivated since those awkward middle school years, filled with highly saturated, peace-sign photos with angsty, Avril Lavigne lyric captions. While some of us decided this content was far too embarrassing to keep online into adulthood, many of us still hold these memories in the archives of our various accounts, which are now filled with more current photos and posts, updating our friends and family on our daily lives, college decisions, friends new and old, and travel experiences. Whether or not you decided to ditch the pre-teen years online, the past decade or so of social media use has been recorded and stored. Thousands of posts, “likes”, “retweets”, followers and followings have collected an enormous database that illustrates our preferences, interests, likes, and dislikes. In many cases, this plethora of information may have a better understanding of our persona’s evolution than our closest friends and family, or even ourselves, do.

The tangibility of one’s online persona is depicted in Black Mirror episode “Be Right Back”. In this episode, a young couple moves into a remote cottage. A day later, one of them is tragically killed in a car accident. The other is devastated, but is informed by a friend of a service that, when one dies, uses their previous social media profiles, interactions, and activities to develop an android that is fully interactive. This allows the young woman, who found out shortly after her husband’s death that she is pregnant, to continue to “interact” with her husband, essentially avoiding the reality of his death. While this episode also delves into the ways we misrepresent ourselves online, the premise of determining an individual’s core personality from their social media profile is indicative of the relationships that individuals create with their social media profiles. Our social media profiles have become a depository of life experiences, a source of nostalgia, and preservation of time as it passes. Like we do in “real life”, we have spent years maintaining a persona on social media. So much so, that it has become an extension of our own self.

The investment we make into developing our online persona also translates to a significant investment in participating in social networks of people online. Some scientists argue that an individual’s attachment style–how avoidant, anxious, involved, and dependent one is in their social relationships–actually manifests itself in the way they consume social media. Omri Gillath, psychology professor at University of Kansas, conducted a study examining how participants conducted themselves on social media, concluding that people follow the same patterns in their “real” relationships that they do on social media. Social media is not only a representation of our individual self, but a significant component of our social lives.

Interestingly enough, last week, international airline JetBlue announced a peculiar sweepstakes encouraging social media addicts to wipe the slate clean. This contest will reward three lucky winners with an entire year of free flights, with only one entry requirement: delete all of your Instagram posts, make your account public, and post a photo promoting JetBlue. Many Instagram users have compared this sweepstakes to the Fyre Festival promotion, where the event encouraged influencers to post a mysterious, burnt orange square on their accounts promoting the experience; however, it presents an interesting dichotomy: both boycotting and using social media to promote a brand. On the one hand, this contest taps into the anti-social media sentiment that has been ruminating over the past few years, especially following the Facebook data breach. Social media consumers are becoming increasingly aware, and concerned, by the amount of data that is collected on their online activity and interactions. Because of this, we’ve seen a staggering popularity in wellness applications such as Apple’s new “My Weekly Usage” tool, where social media users can better monitor and limit the amount of time they spend online. On the other hand, this sweepstakes uses individuals social media accounts as promotional leverage, and even encourages users to continue posting photos of their travel experiences once the contest is over. Like Fyre Festival or The Egg’s viral moments, JetBlue seems to be using a sense of mystère to attract a following, a trend that is becoming more and more effective on social media.

As a photo-posting app, Instagram thrives off of the travel experiences of its users, and travel photos are some of the most popular and most-liked photos on the platform. Because of this, it is natural to assume that users are excited and interested in travel, and would likely be very intrigued by a sweepstakes offering thousands of dollars in flight value. However, users still feel very hesitant to participate. This dichotomy of both consuming and boycotting social media raises the conversation that social media is both something we don’t want to live with, but cannot live without. As said before, social media has become a part of our identity and a significant component in the way we interact with others. Even a sweepstakes such as the one being offered by JetBlue, which would give users the opportunity to experience something so many are seemingly passionate about, is not considered because of the implications of deleting social media presence. This lends itself to the notion that our social media accounts are becoming a part of our identity, and deleting them would mean deleting a part of one’s self, something that is not easily done. It begs the question, is travel a true interest of so many Instagram users, or are these pictures posted for the purposes of cultivating an image? How crucial is an online profile to one’s self and social life, and at what point would we be willing to entirely give that up?

11 comments

  1. We grow up building a life on genuine pursuit, taught by our parents. However, in this day and age, it is difficult to discern who we are because of all the social media platforms that can transform our lives and create a new identity that we can claim as our own. I believe companies like Frye have taken advantage of our mindset and attachment to social media to exploit our weaknesses. However, there are other legitimate companies that you mentioned such as JetBlue that see the perfect opportunity to leverage their brand and self-promote, giving consumers exciting perks that change our behavior and activity. I think this new revolution is going to continue to develop because of how pressing social media is at the forefront of our minds and actions.

  2. After traveling abroad last semester, I feel like I have a very different perspective on whether travel is a true interest of many of the people I follow on Instagram. While in Europe, I went to a lot of places that I had seen on Instagram that seemed incredible, but l left quite disappointed. There are a lot of things about a place (or a restaurant, or an experience) that one cannot tell from Instagram. For example, nobody tells you about the pickpocketers that plague the Champs-Elysees, or that half of the sights to see in Barcelona will be under construction when you’re there. In fact, my favorite city that I travelled to while abroad was Lisbon, which I had known absolutely nothing about before going. Don’t get me wrong, I saw, ate, and experienced some of the most amazing things during my time abroad and am so thankful that I had the opportunities to do so. However, knowing what I know now about the fact that many of the photos I took as inspiration for traveling certain places were posted for the purposes of cultivating an image, there are a lot of things I wish I had done differently.

    1. I completely agree! There are so many expectations that are created when you see someone’s perfectly curated and manicured Instagram photos. I went to Paris and Iceland with someone last year and I was surprised at how much time they spent putting filters on their photos instead of actually enjoying the sights around them. It was almost like they went on the trip so they could show that they did, as opposed to embracing the experiences happening all around them.

  3. I have never seen and/or heard of this episode of black mirror but am definitely going to get on watching it! Definitely a weird concept to base someones personality completely around their past social media presence. I’ve heavily dropped my actual posting amount on social media in turn for soaking in the most content but rarely liking or retweeting things. Based on this preference there is only a limited amount of data my profiles would have on who I am now and could create a 2013 version of me over who I am today. I also saw an article about the JetBlue contest on Twitter and also struggled with how anti yet supportive of social media it was. I personally don’t think I could because I like that my favorite memories are shared somewhere and time stamped and a bunch of flights wouldn’t be able to take that away. However, I think there is definitely opportunity for people who’ve never instagrammed or people creating new instagrams specifically for the contest to rig the system but I digress.

  4. JetBlue is an interesting case study for companies using social media promotions. The promotion seems counterintuitive, because instead of tapping into the addictive nature of social media, JetBlue is forcing users to pull back for a short period of time. The process itself is a reminder that your digital imprint is pervasive. Deleting or archiving photos forces the user to go through what has been posted and the comments. The process is also a reminder that despite temporarily removing photos, they are still accessible online. I also wonder if the promotion created an influx of new accounts that only have the JetBlue template, rather than archiving posts.

  5. This is a really interesting tactic by Jet Blue. It didn’t really make sense on the first read through, but on second thought, it’s actually pretty intuitive. They’re getting the people who don’t care as much about social media to delete their own content and post Jet Blue promos which more avid social media users will in turn consume. Plus the more people who do this, the more free advertising they get (and it’s much more authentic than a post by the brand itself).
    I personally don’t think I would delete all my photos because I like the idea that one day I will have these digital photo albums to go through (that I cant lose) like my parents have scrap books that they’ve accumulated.

  6. It’s scary to think even though folks who have deleted comments, pictures,etc. are not really deleted because they are all stored somehow. I think JetBlue had a great business idea because look at how many people are now talking about them? That is creating some virality in and of itself. I would not hesitate to delete my IG posts if I was offered a year full of free flights.
    I think travel is a true interest for many users, but that people will go out of their ways to create this image of themselves that is not reality. The people that win the contest could re-create their images with all of the cool places they can fly to…for free!

  7. I remember feeling so creeped out when I watched that episode of Black Mirror, but also amazed at the concept because, although I don’t think you could ever truly capture someone’s true essence from just their digital profiles/activities, for some people it might be fairly convincing.
    I went abroad as well, and I completely with Olivia that some of the most hyped up places on social media were fairly disappointing, and my favorite things about my travels were not necessarily something that can be captured in an instagram post (or at least in one that would get a lot of likes). I do think that most people who travel genuinely enjoy it, but the “pics or it didn’t happen” mentality can get really annoying, even if I’m just as guilty as most.
    As far as the Jet Blue contest, would I delete my Instagram posts if it guaranteed me free flights for a year? Absolutely. But to be fair, I would probably screenshot most of them first, because I do think of my Instagram as a digital photo album and a lot of them memories associated with the pictures are important to me, even though I know the post itself, and the likes and comments, may not be.

  8. I think JetBlue is leveraging the idea that breaking ties with social media will actually be healthy for us, even if it is just for a short time. In this sense, having sweepstakes participants delete their feeds seems like a valiant effort, but then again, they are still using the platform to push their own brand. Beyond this, I’m sure the most addicted would never delete all of their photos just for a chance to win – its just too big of a cost to them. I think the mystique surrounding the photo is an interesting topic as well, and it does seem to be generating quite a bit of buzz for those using it – and as you said instagram does seem to be the place to go if you are targeting travellers. I know some people who have chosen places to go based on photos of them they have found on instagram, and have become popular on the platform.

  9. Nice post. I was going to enter the JetBlue contest, because I don’t really use Insta. I remember that Burger King ran a contest that youd get a free whopper if you unfriended 10 people on FB.

  10. This is interesting. The JetBlue sweepstakes feeds right into that viral nature that we were talking about. I think it would be a lot harder than people anticipate, but it is an awesome marketing tactic. I have been trying to limit my social media consumption, but constantly get pulled back in. At least with JetBlue, there is some type of incentive behind it.

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