#VisaBae, Image Gang, and Why I might delete YouTube

Does anyone else remember when every young black girl wanted to be a model? I blame Tyra Banks, because those were the days when America’s Next Top Model was still popping. Can you believe that show is still on air? What are they on now? Cycle 427? I digress…

In those days we all, no matter if we were apple shaped or five foot nothing, thought we could make money by posing for the camera. It seems this desire for easy money is stronger than ever, but now the game has changed. Now the goal is no longer to just be an Insta Model, but to achieve the grand status of a social media “Influencer”, which I guess is a combination of being an Insta Model and a YouTuber, with enough clout to make your followers part with their money.

But perhaps now the pond has become too small. Not everybody can become a millionaire through social media; just ask Visa Bae aka Rutendo Tichiwangani. I hadn’t heard of her until I watched this Channel 5 news clip a couple of weeks ago, and I was somewhat surprised to discover that she has upwards of 70k followers on Instagram. Often pictured adorned with expensive looking weaves and designer hand bags draped across her arms, it came as a surprise to many that Rutendo was seeking donations to cover the cost of her application for indefinite leave to remain in the UK.

There are already enough opinion pieces out there as to whether or not Rutendo should have planned ahead, borrowed from friends, or sold expensive bags to raise the money for her application, so I won’t be going into all of that. Besides, she reached her Go Fund Me target and then some, so the lesson there may well be; in life, as long as you know how to dress well and apply makeup you’ll do just fine. What really troubled me though, was the fact that Rutendo left school/college with the ambition of being a social media influencer. Since when has being an Insta Baby Girl become an ambition? Since when???

Now, I don’t have an Instagram account, for many reasons, including some that will be discussed below, but I do enjoy watching YouTube and have done so for many years. Amongst the beauty and lifestyle vloggers, there appears to be only a very small number of young Black and British YouTubers who have managed to make YouTube a full time job, and are living comfortably from its profits. What can sometimes be forgotten is that when these YouTubers were just starting out they had day jobs, and did YouTube on the side as a creative outlet, a hobby almost, before their popularity and platform grew to a lucrative size. These days however, people are not interested in working a 9 to 5 to make a living. They want the job title of “Influencer” before they’ve even reached a position of influence. They want YouTube to pay them, before they’ve paid their dues and sponsorship based off of a few hundred “views”.

Rutendo’s case also highlights the circularity that comes with this materialistic pursuit. Herself and others “stunt for the Gram” in expensive clothes they can’t afford, hoping to attract collaborations from luxury brands that will eventually help them move from just posing, to actually owning these labels. Meanwhile, hapless followers witness this portrayal of bougie living, feel insecure about not having designer items, and put themselves into debt in order to “keep up”. It’s one of the reasons why I hate Instagram, and why I’m slowly falling out of love with YouTube too.

Both platforms have been so overtaken by big brands it seems that now the only function they serve is to encourage users to spend, spend, spend. Why else has the term “Influencer” been created? What is it that YouTubers want to influence you to do? Part with your coins, that’s what. It’s gotten so bad, that I’m now seeing many lesser known YouTubers posting videos all about how they make money from YouTube, how much they charge brands, and how to maximise revenue. Call me old fashioned, but it’s just so distasteful. Just come out and tell us, why don’t you, that you’re just doing YouTube for the money!

I wonder whether or not some of these young black Influencers have paused to think what all this consumerism is doing for the black community? We seem to consume all day, but what are we producing? I say it’s time to forget about our “image” on social media and make sure we’re building, saving and investing in our futures.

Facebook Has Taken More Than Just Your Data

Last week I waved goodbye my Facebook account. It wasn’t for the first time; anyone else who has deactivated only to end up coming back, knows how easy it is to return. Facebook keeps everything just as you left it so you can just pick up where you left off.

Deleting Facebook

But this time it feels different. I use Facebook a lot less, and it’s easy to see why.  Firstly, the platform itself has changed; the News Feed seems to show only a small selection of the almost 700 friends I’ve collected over the years; whereas before, a notification meant that someone had actually interacted with you in some way, now I can be notified just because someone has uploaded a photo or updated their status. The feeling that Facebook is trying to manipulate me into interacting with people is off putting.

Secondly, I have changed. I no longer think it’s appropriate to share my innermost feelings, or personal experiences with virtual strangers. And yes, I consider the majority of people on my “friends” list to be strangers, added during the “friend grab” phase of my early twenties when meeting someone for the first time was a good enough reason to “friend” them on Facebook.

That’s why for me, the best thing about the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal, is that is finally pushed me from contentedly finding Facebook boring and bizarre, to completely being over it. However, before news of the scandal even broke, I had been conducting my own mental analysis of the social networking site.

If we didn’t already, we now all know the extent to which our Facebook data is shared with third parties. I shudder to think just how much of my data has been gathered over the 12 year period that I used the site. But Facebook has taken so much more than just your data. It has taken your time, your development of social skills, the importance you attach to privacy and so much more. I now consider it completely insane that people are willing to share the most personal details of their lives with virtual strangers. Though only a handful people will actually respond to something we have posted, we forgot about the hundreds of others lurking silently in the shadows, watching our private lives play out in the open, and witnessing our triumphs and tribulations. And the only effort they’ve had to make for this open access to our lives, is to sign in. It is one of sadder consequences of Facebook, that people are less willing to reach out to people by actually picking up the phone to call them, or even more revolutionary, meeting up with them in person (*shock horror*).

Still, there was something else about Facebook that began to sit uncomfortably with me, after a lightbulb moment occurred a few months ago. A “friend suggestion” appeared and it was someone I had known many years ago. What was so remarkable about this moment, was that until I saw the “friend suggestion” I had completely forgotten that this person even existed. And so I should, because that’s what’s supposed to happen as you pass through various stages in life. You do forget people from your past. Or at list you did before Facebook was invented. Now, even that person you met one time at a party is forever with you because you “friended” her, and 10 years on you know every country she’s ever visited, “met” each successive boyfriend, and know what the inside of her fridge looks like.

Facebook has taken away that experience of bumping into an old face, taking a few seconds to piece together where you know them from, and sharing in a brief moment of nostalgia as you realise how much you’ve both changed. Now when I bump into an “old face”, there is no surprise, only a feeling of awkwardness as you know you can’t even pretend not to recognise him because he commented on your post the other day, and you already know the names of his three children and respective baby mothers. The taking away of the ability to forget certain people, should not be overlooked.

Since leaving Facebook this time around, I’ve not looked back at all. A final reminder as to its oddness came as I was taking the final steps to deactivate. “How will you keep in touch with your friends?” Facebook asked me, as a desperate attempt to try to manipulate me into staying. That won’t be a problem Facebook; I’ll call them.