A conversation with tech company journalist -now author- Sarah Frier

Journalist Sarah Frier had been covering social media companies since the year 2012 for about eight years and gathered she had a substantial number of sources to start writing a book. 

"This story, the story of Instagram had not really been pursued by a journalist before, so there were a lot of new doors to knock on and people to talk to who had never talked to the press"
, shared the young author of No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram that took her, about 18 months to write and release.

Instagram is an American photo and video sharing social networking service owned by Facebook, created by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, and originally launched on iOS in October 2010.*

Sarah Frier, Author of the book No Filter. Photo Twitter

Not only did she dove in, talking to current and former employees of the social platform, she also talked to users whose lives had been changed by what she calls very -on point- "this product". 

"One that has made a tremendous impact on our culture, economy, and how we think about ourselves. There had never been an in-depth exploration of what Instagram was all about, what they did, how did they get to this point, and what happened when they got acquired from Facebook. It was more dramatic than you might expect and a lot of the decision-making inside affects what we do on the outside".

With all this inside info Sarah had gathered and being an Instagram user herself, the question that came to mind was, how she sees the youngest generations being impacted by this alternate reality where practically everything is based on looks, aesthetic, unboxings, "collabs" and so on...

"We are always comparing ourselves to each other and now, there is this app that will tell us exactly how we compare via their metrics". Metrics like, number of followers, the amount of comments, and likes to where that feedback while using Instagram will train the user of what to do next, each time they log in to get a bigger and better response. In her interviews with the younger demographics, they shared that it is through Instagram following that they determine who they want to date, who they want to invite to their friend group, who they want to socialize with, and who they would like to lead the student/school activities. 

"The problem is that those metrics that reward quantity over quality that teach you the value of aesthetics over the value of the actual experience, those are flawed in terms of showing people (young or not) what to strive for in this world. I think that it is really worth understanding the underlying mechanics of Instagram and what they are pushing us for and why so we can detach ourselves from that pressure."

When Facebook Acquired Instagram

Before, Instagram was a social platform for IOS users only, based on photos with filters. That was it. Now it is a mix of different features based on other platforms like Snapchat or TikTok, making it more robust and overwhelming at times in order to "keep up".

Sarah explains that before Facebook acquired it, Instagram was about creativity and providing a window to the worlds of other people. "There were no mobile products that worked so well for taking them out into the world. Instagram you could bring to dinner and take pictures of your food, capture things that you wanted to share".

Instagram has become a lot more like Facebook, caring a lot about directly cultivating what they want the culture to look like. "They were playing key maker, for example, if Vogue Magazine is going to do a list of the top ten photographers in Mexico, we're going to help them with that list and then every time someone would google -what are the ten best photographers on Instagram in Mexico- they would get a list created by Instagram corporate but has none of their fingerprints on it. They were very much behind the scenes directing the culture so they could grow".

Now as a user, looking at Instagram you get more notifications, more recommendations on who to follow, and it is all based on what you did previously on Facebook. As people gained following, notoriety, and influence on Instagram, realizing they could make money off of that, it made it so much more commercial because everyone wanted to sell something and even the people who did not want to sell something, became conscious of their personal brand. What their angles were, what is the best lighting, how to show people their lives as content curation. 

"Curating their lives for the consumption of others".

This is Sarah Frier's first book and it came out around April of 2020 during the pandemic. Not being able to do a book tour and in-person interviews around the country, she has had the opportunity to talk virtually to people around the world and see how this book is resonating with them. "It is hard to talk about something that you want to sell at a time where people are suffering. And Instagram itself has never been so central to what we do every day because it is now our lifeline to our social graph. It's like a place that we can still see what people are doing, but at the same time, it has become less of that aspirational optimistic place because people are suffering. Whether is of loneliness, losing your job or having a loved one getting sick".

What this author wishes people would walk away with after reading No Filter...

"I want them to understand that they are playing into a system that has been designed by people to capture more of their attention and to keep them entertained. So as much as it might seem that Instagram is the benchmark of popularity in the societal relevance and getting rich and famous, the actual reality may differ from the numbers you see; and the people you are comparing yourselves to, are also being strategic and also curating their image for your consumption. Once you understand the BTS mechanics of a place like Instagram, you can start to make healthier choices for yourself about what you want to take seriously and what you want to buy into, and what you want to get out of it. 

Why are you using this platform?".

Frier describes using social media as something very passively, waiting for the food in the microwave to be ready or until the bus comes, scrolling, or getting bored while watching TV. This opens us up to be susceptible to whatever is being thrown towards our direction. The way the algorithm works is to show users content that will keep them scrolling longer, not tuned to show reality, things that bring happiness, or our closest family, they are showing things that will have a reaction.

Backlash from Instagram?

Not at all. People who think of applying to work at Instagram are reading Sarah's book. 

"History is just facts. After my book came out, the U.S government started interrogating Instagram's power in a way that they had not before. My book has been cited in congressional investigations on Facebook and Instagram over anti-trust. The conversation is opening up a lot more about Facebook's power in our lives and over the power in our culture and our society".

Sarah adds that she is still a journalist covering tech companies and their power. If you have ideas of stories she may pursue or any problems that you may be having with technology, her DM's on Twitter and Insta are open.

No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram winner of the 2020 Business Book of the Year Award is available in print, e-book, and audio versions. A book from Simon Schuster. Click here to get all the details  


No comments:

Post a Comment