Search Engine Optimism

I saw a reel this morning that detailed some moves at Meta to push people away from hashtags and towards “SEO” as THE way to get people to see their posts. I don’t know how this person got their information and I don’t care, but they did claim some level of insider knowledge that piqued my interest. But what motivated me to write these words was a reply they gave to a comment about wanting old instagram back; they said, and this is almost word for word because it’s seared into my brain: “it never will! the best thing to do is embrace change or get left behind.”

I find that whole philosophy absolutely fascinating. There was a recent discussion about this in a group chat where the consensus is that instagram is broken. The metaphor I drew was with classical rent gap theory: they keep drawing high-value producers into the area until the little guy gets priced out.

Of course, this is just a dumb little app that ultimately matters very little, but the frustrating thing about this economy is that the whole edifice is built on our creativity: our heart, our soul, our affects and deepest wants and satisfactions. That’s the fossil fuel that keeps the attention economy going. So don’t be surprised if people get upset or even care! Our interior world is the labor they are exploiting.

And the push towards “search engine optimization” is in itself a frustrating idea. The point is that content itself should contain enough keywords to be findable without the use of hashtags, but think about how “norming” that is. We already see carbon copies of the same visual and editing motifs proliferating—now you want us to talk about it the same way too?

Can you even have narrative tension in SEO? Does a search engine understand irony or contrast? What could I even say about these photos to make you look?

“Here is a discarded couch by a brick wall on which a missing cat poster can also be seen. It is a visual dramatization of the over-saturation of messages in platform capitalism. The next slide is a visual pun based on the old adage ‘don’t judge a book by its cover.’ Its monumentality is meant as critique.”



This situation reminds me of the controversies that emerged when Google first became a thing. It might be hard to remember this, but PageRank, the algorithm their engine was built on, was a novel idea at the time. Even the sparseness of Google’s front page was a radical break from the early web’s “portals” like Yahoo and Altavista, where information was categorized and taxonomized. Google seemed like a breath of fresh air: we don’t tell you what’s true and important, we’ll let you tell us (through pages linking to other pages, boosting rankings up higher and higher)!

But the French, as they often do, expressed displeasure with this “analytics” philosophy. They were not happy with a system that seemed geared towards survival of the fittest.

I did a presentation about this in college with a slide that said vive la différence and everything, but the irony of it all is that trying to google the articles I’d found back then is almost impossible now; there have been way too many controversies since, with a good number involving the French.

There’s something about francophone culture that has always fascinated and infuriated me. I don’t think about it that often, obviously, but it’s definitely on my mind as we get closer to our trip to Montréal.


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