You may have come across this New York Times article from a few weeks back, describing the use of Klout rankings in choosing who to invite to social events.
- It’s an algorithm-driven attempt to put a literal number next to a person’s name, a number derived from an analysis of that person’s Twitter interactions (!) that ostensibly crystallizes their social influence into a single metric.
- It’s essentially the long-standing, if vile, idea of “A-list” and “B-list” people, reified into a unidimensional, opaquely machine-determined value.
- And if this article is any guide, it’s at risk of becoming an accepted index of social worth, proffered by a commercial organization whose determinations — beyond everything that’s ethically wrong with the idea — are frequently laughably, grotesquely wrong.
Above and beyond the fact that the parties described in the Times piece are exactly the sort at which no person with a modicum of self-respect and a functioning douchery detector would be caught dead, this is precisely the sort of thing I was concerned would happen if we allowed values, motifs and metaphors derived from software to overwrite existing social etiquettes and protocols. It has all kinds of disturbing implications, on a bunch of different levels, and I believe it’s a practice we’re best served by strangling in the crib. So I make to you this promise — call it the “zeroklout” pledge:
I will never attend a party, gathering or other event where, to my knowledge, Klout or a similar social influence ranking algorithm has been used as a selection criterion for invitation.
For what it’s worth, right? Maybe if enough people make this sort of pledge, visibly enough, we can at least collectively force some clear lines to be drawn. (One such line might be the one between the kind of people who are worth knowing and having as friends, and those who believe personhood and worth can effectively be conveyed by a score.) Better still would be an action of such scale as to devalue the algorithm entirely, which — god forbid and perish the thought — would force us back to reliance upon our senses and instincts in determining who we want to associate with. Either way, you’ll know where I stand.