Poly Alum Matt Lawler ’99 Discusses the Future of Humanity as Framed Through Tiktok
“If you’re using a free product, you are the product.” The Netflix film The Social Dilemma covered this theme heavily by diving into the dangers of social media, specifically the exploitation and marketing of youth. The film also emphasized the moral responsibility of social media companies to recognize and be accountable for their influence.
But there were some things The Social Dilemma got wrong according to Matt Lawler ‘99, who is the current Director of Digital Media at Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG). In his PolyConnect lunch on Nov. 18, he argued that users, as well as corporations, need to be actively engaged in the content curation and creation process.
Lawler spotlighted TikTok as a rising political and economic force shaping modern culture and marketing strategies. TikTok is a social media platform where users watch and record short videos. It is special because of its For You Page, which provides users with a personalized stream of content selected for them by the app.
This occurs by way of an algorithm, which monitors users’ personal preferences and serves each of them more of what they enjoy. Lawler showed the students a few TikToks from his own For You Page, which featured political humor and inspirational messages.
When an ad came up on Lawler’s page for a political comedy show, around half of the students present did not realize this was an advertisement. Lawler noted that ads have gotten increasingly sophisticated at disguising themselves as normal content, despite their ulterior purpose.
This ulterior purpose isn’t always bad, Lawler argued, it just needs to be recognized. Educated consumers can not only curate the algorithm for positive personal usage but also engage in the global discussion surrounding technology and marketing. Technology is a changing field, Lawler argued, but it is up to us to adapt to it.
Lawler closed the conversation by arguing, “We can make sure we don’t destroy the world but help rebuild it.”
The students in attendance evidently enjoyed the discussion, as it ran 25 minutes overtime. Sophomore Michaela Sabbag enthusiastically stated, “We ended up having an eye-opening discussion about how marketing affects the media!”
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