I think my Klout score helped me get my first job working with Nicholas Kristof. In 2012, when I was interviewing to work with him, he mentioned my score on the site, which rates social media influence. It was high for a person who wasn’t a well-known journalist, and he was huge on social media, so on the advice of a friend I included it on my résumé. He noticed, and we are now colleagues at The New York Times.
Now I cringe at the thought. It’s like bragging about my high school G.P.A. When Klout announced last week that it was shutting down, it got an internet wake fueled by mocking from, of course, people with high Klout scores.
“I feel like this @Klout score should have gotten me into more parties,” tweeted Anil Dash, an impressive 84 on a scale of 1 to 100.
Eve Peyser joked, “It’s sad Klout is shutting down — what other service will congratulate me for being a gout expert?”
On May 25, Klout will shut down, but not because what it set out to do is irrelevant. On the contrary: Klout is closing because, well, we’re living our Klout scores now. The “influencer economy” is thriving, and it has created a new vocabulary. I just reached 500,000 Facebook fans! My YouTube video went viral. OMG, did you see who commented on my Instagram post? I’m trending worldwide. I checked in so many times I’m the mayor of my local bar.
I was happy to get a professional boost from social media influence; today, entire careers are built on it. In our influencer-driven world, Kim Kardashian gets paid $500,000 for touting a product on Instagram. Product placement on social media is so rampant that Olivia Wilde felt compelled to include the hashtag #notanad when she posted a picture of new sustainably made sneakers by Nike.
Perks aren’t just for superstars. Alexandra Michelle (430,000 followers on Instagram) posts mesmerizing yoga videos and plugs the company that provides her apparel: “Outfit by my yoga fam @spiritualgangster.” Laura Izumikawa shares photos and videos of her adorable daughter on Instagram, and on Mother’s Day her 628,000 followers got a chance to win a bag, shoes and a necklace.
得到好处的不仅仅是超级明星。亚历山德拉·米歇尔 (Alexandra Michelle，在Instagram上有43万粉丝)发布了一些迷人的瑜伽视频，并宣传了提供服饰的公司：“全套服装由我的瑜伽朋友@spiritualgangster提供。”劳拉·泉川(Laura Izumikawa)经常在Instagram上分享她可爱女儿的照片和视频，母亲节那天，她的62.8万名粉丝有机会抽奖赢得包包、鞋子和项链。
Aspiring influencers don’t need to wait for companies to shower them with freebies or cash. On FameBit anyone with 5,000 subscribers or followers on YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr or Facebook can propose projects to sponsors across a variety of topics. And if companies don’t have $500,000 for a plug from a Kardashian, they can go to Shoutcart, view social followings for thousands of lesser influencers and buy a shout-out for as little as $1.
Of course, there is a danger to all this. “Black Mirror,” the science fiction television show, showed us what such a world looks like in the extreme. In the 2016 episode “Nosedive,” people are constantly rated by friends, colleagues and even passers-by on the street. People whose score drops too low on the 5-point scale are barred from renting nice cars, rebooking flights and even entering the building in which they work.
Lacie Pound, our protagonist, is a solid 4.2 but aspires to move into a luxury apartment complex that gives discounts to 4.5’s and above. Her plan to boost her score involves giving a knockout toast at a wedding, which has a guest list populated with high 4’s. Being friendly to the barista isn’t going to cut it; she needs people with high ratings to give her five stars.
But what seems like a parody is not so different from our world in 2018, and I’m not just talking about the challenge of getting a ride when you have a low Uber rating. A recent story in Wired about social ranking in China examined Zhima Credit, which doesn’t just consider whether you pay your bills on time “but also what you buy, what degrees you hold, and the scores of your friends.” Its chief executive was quoted as saying that Zhima Credit “will ensure that the bad people in society don’t have a place to go, while good people can move freely and without obstruction.”
I don’t begrudge anyone their free workout gear. But I fear a world in which you could be denied freedom of movement because your best friends have blue-collar jobs or you never finished college.
In “Nosedive,” the heroes are the ones who resist the pressure to be fake and conniving to achieve higher scores. At the end of the episode — spoiler alert! — Lacie’s score has dropped to below one, she’s in jail, and the technology embedded in her eyes that lets her see people’s scores is removed. She gets into an argument with a fellow prisoner, and they start screaming at each other. But now, there’s no need to choose their words carefully for fear of offending someone and getting a low rating. Freedom, at last.