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How “Stan Culture” on Social Media Gives Youth Their Identity

By Andrew Garas

Currently, Twitter has 330 million users on its platform. What I find most interesting is the way its users have turned pockets of the site into their own personal spaces to bond over common interests. I’ve seen the sports side of Twitter, the film side, and pretty much everything in-between. Celebrities, popular musicians, movies, and the like have always existed, and so have the fans and super-fans of those properties – but with the easily accessible nature of Twitter and other platforms, we have seen the birth of “stan culture” – the new way for young people to express their identity, but not without adverse side effects. 

What are stans?

Stan, still considered slang, is defined by Merriam-Webster as “an extremely or excessively enthusiastic and devoted fan”. 

When thinking of “stan culture” – most people’s minds go straight to rabid K-Pop fans, or Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters – but just about every moderately popular musician, actor, or actress, now has a budding stan community online. For young people, I think their interests often shape their most formative years. As someone obsessed with emo and punk music in high school, it was easy to feel jaded when my peers weren’t interested in the same things. Having online communities, however, was what gave me my sense of identity and helped me make friends and connect to other people.  

Social Media Identity in Culture

A study done in 2018 by Computers in Human Behavior showed that users with self-esteem issues don’t feel ok with presenting the true versions of themselves on social media. Instead, they use “strategic self-presentation” to alter their authentic identity and increase their “subjective well-being” by gaining more likes and comments. With the popularity of new apps like Facetune that allow users to easily edit photos of themselves with skin-smoothing and reshaping features, body image and self-esteem issues have been widely discussed in the era of new media, especially for young people.  

It’s not hard to see why with rising insecurities in the era of social media, separate stan accounts have taken off. Most stans on Twitter or other platforms keep their profile completely anonymous, using screen names and profile pictures based on their interest, rather than of themselves. This makes these accounts more low-stake, with the singular intent of sharing your fandom with others. 

As stated in the chapter “Social Networks, Profiles, and Networked Identities” in Miller’s Understanding Digital Culture, he discusses the inherent differences between running a simple personal diary vs an online journal, intended to be seen by an audience. These online relationships are more constructed than authentic. He argues we have “multiple selves” – based on our different profiles. For a stan account, their online persona based around a fandom is just a different perception of themselves, meant to be perceived by only a specific audience (fellow fans).  

Adverse Effects; Death Threats, Herd Mentality, and Obsession  

As we know, stans are already the top of a group of fans – the most devoted and passionate. With its echo chamber effect, we have unfortunately seen some of the negative implications of young people very dedicated to something not knowing where the line is. I’m sure there are some studies on herd mentality, but in my opinion, being surrounded by only people with only like-minded and very intense views can make finding someone with a dissenting opinion even more upsetting. This is why we have seen some groups of stans take the roles of mobs, constantly defending and spamming (in sometimes violent ways), their favorite property under dissenting opinions. I have seen some nuance lost in these takes and it turns into an obsession rather than a fandom.

Growing Up

Being a stan is most appealing to a younger crowd, and it’s not hard to see why. As I grew older, I realized I grew out of fanaticism over celebrity. I never owned a stan account, despite flirting with the idea many times as well as following many to keep tabs on my favorite artists. I understand why being a “stan” is so common for young people nowadays and I do think it’s a positive to have these spaces to discuss more obscure interests. I’m glad that young people find their identity through fandom, as I certainly did in one way or another. But I also think it’s important to take a step back and examine your own personal identity, and make sure it’s not clashing too hard with the artist that you “stan”.  

-AG

The Celebrity “Mourning” Show: A Podcast on Celebrity Death: Episode One

About the Hosts:

Taylor Fruzetti:

Taylor is from Halifax, Massachusetts, and is a Junior at Emmanuel College. She is double majoring in Communications and Media Studies and Writing, Editing, and Publishing, with a minor in Sociology. In her free time, Taylor enjoys walking her greyhound Twist, listening to true crime podcasts, and making jewelry. Taylor strives to pursue a career in journalism. Taylor’s blog is Talkin’ with Tay.

Madison Suitor:

Madison is from Boulder, Colorado, and is a Junior at Emmanuel College. She is majoring in Communications and Media Studies, with minors in Political Communication and Sports Management. In her free time, Madison enjoys listening to music, watching the Tottenham Hotspurs, and canoeing on lakes. Madison’s blog is Thee Unsuitable.

Andrew Garas:

Andrew is from Hudson, New Hampshire, and is a Junior at Emmanuel College. He is majoring in Communications and Media Studies, with minors in Digital Media Production and Writing, Editing, and Publishing. In his free time, Andrew enjoys watching films, listening to music, and performing with his band. Andrew’s blog is AG in 2021

About Today’s Episode

As avid social media users and consumers of pop culture, all three of us were interested in the idea of celebrities passing away. This was also on our mind as many huge public figures in our lives had passed away in 2020 and the years prior. A common link between all of us that we mourned was the emo-rap artist Lil Peep, who passed away at 21 in 2017. We decided to use him as a link to explore the wider implications of how the death of popular figures influences social media conversations. We broke up the podcast into three points: general obsession with death and mortality, the specific social media conversations and whether they are good or bad, and then the future implications of mourning celebrities using social media. This conversation was fruitful and lead to a great discussion! The podcast is linked below.

We hope you enjoy our take on this very important topic!

-CMS

Defeating FOMO in Quarantine

By Andrew Garas

This past week, I was officially diagnosed with COVID-19 after an unexpected exposure at a band practice I was at. I know no one expects to have gotten COVID-19, but I was especially not as I have received both doses of the vaccine and was far past the two-week incubation period. However, I was unexpectedly thrown into a ten-day quarantine, unable to leave my room. Because of this, I have had a lot of time to reflect on how I personally interact with my technology usage. With practically nothing to do except stare at a screen, I have tried to take my own mental health to task and figure out the best ways to combat FOMO and use social media healthily.  

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FOMO:

With the vaccine becoming much more widely available, many people are essentially getting back out into the world, and also feel comfortable sharing it on their social media. I have seen people going to bigger parties, concerts, and just generally feeling more comfortable out and about. While I sat at home these last ten days, I couldn’t help but be jealous. I kept thinking to myself: “why me?”. It almost became a blame game – especially since I had to miss days at work, school events, and social gatherings I had planned. I started to blame myself and get increasingly depressed that I was stuck in one place while everyone lived their lives. I had developed a serious case of FOMO (fear of missing out) and having my phone attached at the hip was certainly not helping.  

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Trying Self-Compassion: 

 These feelings lasted for the first few days – but after sulking just a bit too much and reaching a certain peak of self-loathing, I decided to try and practice self-compassion to help myself get through the quarantine, and hopefully take it with me after I’m out. According to Durlofsky, self-compassion and self-love have been proven to help us “lead lively and enriching lives” (source). Because of this, I thought it would be a good time to try a few tips and tricks to see if they worked for me.  

What I Tried:

  • Casual Exercise: I am not a huge fitness junkie, but I decided to take up some simple, easy exercises in quarantine every day that I woke up. The exercises helped me feel less sluggish as well as took me away from the screen for a bit. In the article, Remedies for the Distracted Mind, they discuss how they believe exercise (as well as meditation) can lead to decreased feelings of FOMO, but there is still a lack of research on the topic thus far (source).  
  • Fully Engaged Viewing: I am a huge film junkie and decided to watch at least one film everyday in my Covid quarantine (I ended up averaging around 2-4 a day…). When I watched these films, I picked longer films that had been burning a hole in my watchlist. When I watched them I fully turned off my phone and placed it elsewhere in the room to stay completely engaged with the content. There is something about being lost in a 3+ hour film with no distractions that is extremely rewarding to me and certainly helped me make it through this quarantine. In Durlofsky’s book Logged in and Stressed Out, she says one of the best things to do to mediate your digital life and real life is to “set virtual boundaries” (source). I set the boundary to completely engross myself in the world of the art of film, and it made viewing a lot better and more engaging. While the TV is still a digital landscape technically, I would argue film viewing in of itself is an analytical activity (at least for me), more than one I would use to procrastinate like I would with a Youtube video.  
  • Facetime: In Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation, she states: “Face-to-face conversation is the most human- and humanizing – thing we do” (source). I’ve always thought this and I knew having no human contact for 10 days would be tough. In a normal living situation, I always used texts for shorter, more concise communication. However, since being locked in my room, I decided to partake in more Facetime calls with friends. I think I averaged more Facetime calls with friends this last week than in the last six months. The conversations were fruitful too, making me value our face-to-face conversations much more than I did before.  
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Conclusion: 

Overall, I would certainly not wish getting the virus upon anyone, and it was certainly not a pleasant experience to say the least. But that being said, I did my best to combat FOMO in this extraordinary situation. I think I did a good job of it as well, and I will try and use these tactics now in my everyday life to reinvigorate some of my relationships, stay engaged and use social media healthily.  

-AG

Kendama is the Key to Unplugging and the Cure to Boredom 

By Andrew Garas 

Social media has become a constant escape for us, especially in the year of the pandemic when we are all trapped inside. We have found ourselves stuck inside, socially detached, and most of all, bored. Boredom will be different for everyone, but many of us will look to social media and our phones to “self-medicate” our monotonous lives. Author of Logged in and Stressed Out, Paula Durlofsky said “Anything we do to suppress, deny, avoid, or minimize negative emotions is considered a self-medicating behavior”. (source). For me, I have decided to ditch social media and my phone, unplug, and instead self-medicate with a new hobby: kendama.  

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Kendama is a wooden skill toy originating from Japan that has grown much more popular in the USA in recent years. I learned about it in 2013 as I was very into another skill toy, yo-yo, back then (and still am today). The kendama consists of 3 cups, the big cup, small cup, and base cup as well as a “sword” or spike. It is tied to a ball with a hole on a string. It may sound basic, but the sport of kendama has evolved past its original Japanese origin with much more advanced tricks, paints, woods, and shapes of the ken itself. When I first found about it in 2013 (the time of the original American boom of the toy), I bought two kendamas and attempted to learn, but eventually failed. I found the toy difficult and frustrating to learn and eventually gave up. Over the years, I saw a resurgence of the toy on social media, but I figured I wouldn’t be good enough to pick it back up again.  

Older Kendama Styles, Small Cups and Bad Paint (source)

In late 2020, I ended up finding an old kendama while cleaning my room. The wood was absolutely trashed, and the shape of it was nearly unusable. I had limited knowledge of tricks but decided to buy a new one. When it arrived, I instantly started learning more new age tricks, tricks I didn’t even think we’re possible when I first picked up the toy in 2013. The cups were bigger, the paint stickier, and all around the experience of picking up a new skill was extremely gratifying. Since then, kendama has become one of my main hobbies and is something I now consider to be inseparable from.

One of the reasons kendama helped my mental health so much is it was something tangible to get me off my phone. Before finding the toy, my pandemic year had consisted of a lot of self-medication in the form of staring at my phone. I would spend hours on Youtube and Instagram, wasting time and energy. I never felt fulfilled from this. In an article by Sean Illing on boredom and our phones, he states: “The rise of the smartphone certainly has meant constant companionship — or at least the promise of constant companionship. We don’t always find it” (source). This was certainly true for me as I was finding what I wanted out of the endless cycle of scrolling. Kendama gave me a reason to unplug, focus, hone my skills and progress as a player. I set trick goals for myself everyday and do my best to reach them.  

Pro Kendama Player Video

On top of getting me away from the screen, Kendama is also a very fluid hobby and one that can fit in with many other things. Many people consider it snug with music, skateboarding, BMX, nature, yo-yo, photography, design and much more. Kendama is for everyone, and for me, ended the mindless cycle of scrolling, I am never bored when I carry a kendama. In research done by Kent State, they found that in our downtime between work or class, we have “happy hour” and can do whatever we want with our time. His take on this was: “walking during these periods could prove more rewarding than browsing through Instagram. To coin a phrase, “Take a stroll, not a scroll”. (source). For me, kendama, is that stroll. It is physical, challenging, relaxing, and, overall fun. I think it could be the cure to boredom, it is at least for me.  

Are Dating Apps Ruining Relationships?: The Commodification of Love

By Andrew Garas

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In 2021, online dating apps, Instagram DMs, and memes could be your key to love. But what are these new social media phenomena actually doing to our relationships? The book Logged In and Stressed Out: How Social Media is Affecting Your Mental Health and What You Can Do About It discusses the potentially detrimental effects social media can have on us and our mental health. One of the key parts of this discussion is the relationships and how they have shifted over time and how we can (or can’t) develop these relationships in a digital age.  

With the pandemic sweeping through the world in 2020, most of us spent the majority of time inside, isolated, and alone. Because of this, our normal cravings for intimacy increased almost tenfold. Even pre-pandemic, the need for intimacy is wired directly into our brains. A quote from the book states: “The capacity to actually feel love and intimacy is necessary for feeling safe and cared for as well as for cultivating a deep sense of commitment to important relationships in our lives” (source). One of the key ways for us to keep busy nowadays (at least us single people), is to go on dating apps and mindlessly scroll through. Whether it be Tinder, Bumble, or Hinge, all of them use essentially the same formula: you make a profile with a bio and some pictures, view other people’s profiles, and swipe right or left depending on if you “like” them or not. The entire concept of swiping encourages users to stay on the app for longer, but to swipe through profiles as quickly as possible.  

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What are the implications of this new culture of swiping? Swiping, in my opinion, leads to the commodification of love and relationships. It turns a dating app into an activity, rather than a human interaction. You also are commodifying yourself when you put yourself out there. You present the best version of yourself; only the side you want people to see, almost as if you were marketing yourself. You also tend to compare yourself to others using the app – whether you don’t have as many matches or your photos aren’t as extravagant or nice looking. As the book states, “When we open any number of social media platforms and scroll through photos of vacations, celebrations with family and friends, and our adorable pets, our inner critic might say “I’m not successful enough” or “I’m not good enough”’ (source). It’s not hard to see why dating apps might contribute to this problem – even Instagram seems a bit more like a “realistic portrayal” of yourself. It begs the question – how much of yourself can you really show in a couple photos and a small bio?  

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It’s clear these apps are flawed – most people know that, but yet there are still millions and millions of users. Tinder has 7.89 million users and Bumble has 5.03 million users. The way our brains cling on to certain apps like Tinder have real psychological effects on our brain. When we swipe, our brains release dopamine. Especially because of the pandemic, we craved that real human affection more than ever. With these cravings developed, we are even in the period where there has been a new phobia developed about being away from your phone. “Most of us depend on our devices for information and connection, so it’s normal to worry about losing them” (source). While obviously this is general, I think people have gotten afraid of being away from these dating apps. The potential of love brings us back in. 

In 2021, dating apps are the new normal. While it’s obvious that there are problems here, these apps are going nowhere. People also use other social media to try and find partners, by DMing other people they find interesting. While our love has potentially been commodified, there is no way to go back now. Happy swiping! 

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-AG

They’re Just Like You: How Brands Weaponize Social Media Marketing to Get You on Their Side

By Andrew Garas

In 2021, every PR professional and marketing employee has to understand the social media sphere, and how and what to write for it to resonate with an audience and achieve the company’s goal. In Strategic Writing for Social Media, they describe the delicate balance needed to create successful social media writing. They stress how important it is to uphold the brand’s value, but to also be entertaining and to encourage conversation and community.  

“Successful social media writers create messages that are relevant for their audiences, resonating with them on a personal and emotional level, and that at the same time are professional and aligned with the brand’s mission and core attributes” (Freberg). 

Nowadays, however, it seems the biggest brands have thrown away all the subtlety we normally think of when working for a professional organization. Brands have leaned heavily into just the entertainment side of things, making memes, and most importantly trying to be ‘relatable’, especially to younger people.  

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Who and Why? 

The main offenders of this meme-heavy strategy have turned out, oddly enough, to be massive fast-food chains like Wendy’s and Burger King. Wendy’s could arguably be cited as the originator of this style of social media marketing. They portray themselves as if it is one person tweeting, just like a normal user like you or me. They also put emphasis on being mean and sassy, not traits we usually see in professional marketing environments, but Wendy’s and other chains have utilized this tool to get more eyes on their brand, even if it has nothing to do with the brand’s product itself. 

 

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When we see Wendy’s “roasting” another fast-food company on Twitter, we are not thinking about the new Chicken Sandwich they have just released, but subconsciously, Wendy’s is on our mind. They also gain press coverage by sending out these “mean tweets” – extending their reach out beyond Twitter into completely different spheres.  

This then connects to the psychology of how we perceive social media marketing. In an article from Hootsuite, they give eight lessons for social media marketers on how to better understand their audience and succeed. Two of the things they suggest that fit into what Wendys and other chains do is utilizing FOMO as well as knowing that users “trust their peers”.  

“Exploiting someone’s anxiety about not being included in something is a bit morally dubious, as the effects of FOMO are real and aren’t overly positive.” (source).  

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The tweet pictured above is a perfect example, using their signature sassiness to push a brand deal, one that will expire soon if the user doesn’t jump on it. They also interact like they are a peer, making them seem more trustworthy than a monolithic corporation.  

Brands like Wendy’s have recognized the cold and distant feeling most get from marketing and have weaponized that feeling to try and flip it on its head. They also know that social media is where they will find the younger generation.  

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Does it succeed? 

On a personal level, for me, it does not succeed. It reads as a multi-million-dollar corporation pandering to a younger audience. In another article from Hootsuite, they explained eight steps to create a successful social media marketing plan. Some of the best examples they give are things like learning as much information about your audience, gathering data and knowing your competition (source). Tactics like these are obviously very effective, and that’s what we need to understand with the bigger brands like Wendy’s. Even though they present to be “just like us”, they likely used data and intensive studies like the ones suggested to determine what would work for the brand. However, even if it doesn’t work on a personal level, it’s hard to deny that this “just like you” style of marketing is objectively working for the brands.  

-AG 

Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor and the Literal Interpretation of Presence

By Andrew Garas

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My favorite film of 2020 was Brandon Cronenberg’s second and breakout film, Possessor. Following in his father David Cronenberg’s footsteps, Possessor is a surrealist, disturbing piece of sci-fi and body horror with ample social commentary that has left me thinking since I finished my first viewing of the film. Much of the commentary and science fiction elements in the film directly represent the idea of presence and VR.  

The plot of Possessor revolves around a woman played by Andrea Risenborough working for a mysterious high-tech corporation that has tech that lets you fully possess other people’s bodies. The corporation uses the technology to commit murders for their own corporate gain without leaving a trace. There are rules and semantics in the universe that I will not go into detail on, but the main story revolves around the main character slowly losing her grip on herself and her reality as she possesses her host body (played by Christopher Abbot) to commit a murder.  

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Our reading on the idea of presence suggests the idea represents when a person is so psychologically entrenched in their experience with technology, that they fail to recognize the role of technology in their experience. The idea of presence varies from person to person, and does not occur when the user can “fully and accurately acknowledge the role of technology in an experience” (source). Possessor toys with this idea as we see the main character completely lose her grip on her reality, unable to tell herself from the host body she inhabits through the technology. After her first mission, we even see her normal human body having to retrain herself to speak normal phrases as the technology has warped her perception of reality to an intense degree. Possessor is obviously a very literal vision of the idea of presence, but considering how rapidly technology progresses in our society, the vision the film presents still seems somewhat grounded.  

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The film, in some of its most crucial worldbuilding scenes, also plays with the ideas of AR and VR. AR, or augmented reality, is using the real is enhanced by computer made images. Virtual reality on the other hand, is a full and immersive technological experience where the viewer is living through a computer-generated reality, often through a headset.  

In the film, Christopher Abbot’s character works a low-level position at a massive corporation. His job is to essentially sit in a dull hallway at a computer, and put on a VR headset. In the headset, he sees into people’s homes and he is meant to track the color of their curtains, so the corporation can get a better idea of the type of things they would like to buy. Abbot’s character peers into normal people’s lives, seeing people having sex, and others trying to live out their normal lives with their kids as he peers in. You are never given the proper context if Abbot is actually looking in or it is an augmented version of the people’s homes. However, in the source we looked at on how AR will be the next big tech phenomenon, it stated: “Deep in the research labs of tech companies around the world, scientists and engineers are racing to construct virtual places that overlay actual places” (source). This idea of VR and AR that is presented is presented as dystopian, but once again, with the rise of Amazon and Alexa and actual AR concepts being developed, it does not seem too far off. 

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In the article, Are We Already Living in a Virtual Reality from The New Yorker examines the current state of VR and looks at out of body experiences. Speaking on a group that studies VR starting in 2010, they said “Their labs, in Barcelona, used immersive virtual reality to manipulate the body models of research subjects, convincing them that the bodies they possessed in V.R. were their own” (source). Seems shockingly familiar to the idea Possessor presented.  

Possessor, while one of the most disturbingly violent films in recent memory, also presents massively compelling ideas that seem to be a twisted mirror of our current reality and the state of presence.  

-AG

FOMO vs the Lower Class

How Class Plays into our Social Media Envy – By Andrew Garas

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FOMO, otherwise known as the “fear of missing out” is a growing phenomenon, rapidly affecting almost everyone who uses social media in 2021. Researcher Barbara Khan decided to take on this topic after an experience with her daughter where she became envious of others at a beach getaway, even though she was at a comparable destination weekend. Khan said on an NPR podcast about the problems with social media. “seeing our friends having fun on social media taps into our social anxiety about belonging to the group”. While of course, social anxiety plays a huge role in FOMO, I think a new way to examine this issue is through class.  

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Class struggles are more prevalent today than they have ever been – the disparities between the rich and the poor have never been bigger. The billionaire class is highly scrutinized, and especially by younger people. Younger people in the US have become frustrated that we have been given a country that is actively destroying the middle class, leaving us with simply the rich, and the poor.  

So what does this have to do with social media? The billionaire class has existed for ages, but it is important to take a step back and look at WHY we use social media in the first place. In a study done by University of Georgia researchers – they looked at social media and it uses and gratifications. “People increasingly embrace SNSs as tools for both communication and information, which help them fulfill their informational, emotional, and social desires when used in tandem” Using these “SNSs” (social networking sites) can help us reach these desires – but what are our desires in a capitalist world? Most often I see our “informational, emotional, and social desires” as things like wealth, status, and glamour, and these all fit our capitalist defined idea of success.  

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The way these class issues arise in social media is through envy. In a Techcrunch article titled “The Difference Between Good and Bad Facebooking”, they state the main driver behind peoples decline of well-being and happiness as a result of social media is based on envy and social comparison. Writer Josh Constine wrote, “People felt that everyone else’s lives were more entertaining and glamorous than their own, and that everyone else was care-free while they themselves were wracked with stress and trouble”. It’s not hard to see how we can compare this to our modern-day class struggles.  

With celebrity culture now rearing its ugly head on Instagram rather than just tabloids, and the birth of the “influencer” – it is not surprising to know why so many people seek wealth and beauty to be considered successful. In my experience, if you can’t afford certain products that your favorite social media personalities are promoting, you automatically feel left out. Especially when these people often reward consumption, by re-posting that you purchased or replying to a dm you sent saying you purchased their new product. With this constant system of gratification, it is not hard to see why those lacking money feel left out.  

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Overall, social media has its positives – there can be real grassroots political activism and community building. But many people, often the rich, ignore this and decide to only show only the most flashy and expensive parts of their lives. It’s important to be aware of this and try and fight against FOMO. Once we can stop feeling intense envy, we can start organizing to fight the real fights against class issues in America.  

-AG

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