Covid-19, Crisis of Social Media, And Economy of “likes”

Crisis of social media, economy of likes and COVID-19

As we all are aware that social media is the platform where people project their virtual self that in most of the probabilities has nothing to do with their real self. The dopamine hit that body receives is directly proportional to the number of likes that the social media users get on their posts. In the times before the COVID-19 caused lockdown people captured their interface with the outside world in order to move ahead in the economy of likes. What do I mean by the economy of likes? In the real world, the more material possessions a person has the more successful he or she is considered. In the virtual economy of likes, the more likes a person has the more successful he or she is considered.

This can be illustrated by the fact that there are so many people working in the field of social media that provide likes to those who desire. In the economy of likes, there is a market where there are people who sell likes and the people who buy them. The same logic applies to boosting your posts on virtual platforms.

In real life, people get dopamine released in their body when they achieve success in relation to a material or immaterial aspect of their lives. For instance, if one buys a new car, dopamine released in one’s body as a result of the same will provide that person the feelings that would last over a period of time. However, people get addicted to dopamine release and once it is over they engage themselves in new activities to make sure that they experience dopamine hits, time and again. But there is an issue with dopamine release associated with real lives of people -it is expensive!

On the other hand, in virtual world of social media, release of dopamine is comparatively cheaper, for the data is getting cheaper and becoming readily available to almost everybody on the planet. It is seen that people engage in different activities in real lives in order to maintain a virtual life on social media and, thereby, targeting two modes of dopamine release. It is also very possible that the people who focus on the virtual aspect of their personalities might be failing in experiencing any release of dopamine as a consequence of the activities they perform in the real lives that they can transpose onto virtual platforms. Hence, for these people maintaining a very “marketable” virtual life becomes even more significant.

Because of the lock down in the wake of Coronavirus the attributes of virtual presence of people have stopped being “marketable”, for the cannot go outside in order to enrich their virtual presence by taking pictures or making videos pretending, under tremendous pressure, that they are living the lives that are worth something in the economy of likes. So, what are these people doing during self isolation at home?

It seems that these people are participating in “active” virtual social life on social media. This is being done in order to compensate for their ‘likes’ deficit. That’s why, on social media, you will find many people posting their videos or photos engaging in group chats, audio or visual, online parties or social gatherings, and performing the pseudo-social activities like singing, dancing, exercising, and playing some musical instruments on balconies of their houses. It needs to be highlighted that these activities are not being performed in order to be in touch with other people in the society; nor does it mean that the people engaging in such activities are missing their social interaction. The fact that these activities are being recorded and posted online indicates that they mean something more than the meaning ostensibly portrayed by the people engaging in these activities and the mainstream news media. If these activities were meant to compensate for the substantial deficit of real and meaningful social interaction, the situation before COVID-19 would have been totally different. Various studies, empirical or otherwise, suggest that people are getting away from each other in social context. Hence, if we will construe something else from the ongoing public narrative other than the fact that the activities undertaken to make up for the likes deficit are nothing but similar to the gig economy, it will be a huge mistake.

In view of the aforementioned, it becomes clear that in order to compensate or make up for the deficit of likes in their virtual lives on social media people are out there engaging in numerous activities online. The social media and other similar technology oriented platforms have seen extremely high frequency of user interface and content overflow not only because people have nothing else to do but also because they are striving very hard to keep up with their dopamine addiction. And, therefore, the intellectuals and those who are observing the society in order to reach conclusions must be cautious to not let themselves be guided by the fabrication of public discourse wrongly highlighting that the humans who are too active on social media are missing going out and participating actively in the society and its social intercourse.

Paramjeet Singh Berwal

Paramjeet, a lawyer, an invited lecturer, and AI research and policy consultant, is the Director of the Institute for Artificial Intelligence and Technology Law at Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani University, Georgia. He is a Global Panelist with MIT Technology Review. He is frequently invited to deliver talks and presentations on various topics pertaining to AI. His research includes how AI will influence human existence, especially in the context of economy, work, law, society and its institutions, business management, social behaviour and policy making. He may be contacted at

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