@Most attempted to give a voice to a complicated, frustrating, and painful situation. But it was still a marketing performance.
Anonymity is a seductive costume, especially when it shrouds individual identity. Much of the conversation around opaqueness on the internet is about its uses for malicious intent, like harassment and doxing. But nearly as insidious is when anonymity takes the form of ventriloquism for corporate entities — like peering into an android’s vacant eyes as they tell a joke.
In 2019, Netflix’s main Twitter account announced the cancelation of the critically-acclaimed reboot of Norman Lear’s One Day a Time. It did so in an unusually personal, faux-forthright voice, like an adult telling a child that they would not, in fact, be getting ice cream after dinner.
As Kathryn VanArendonk wrote for Vulture, the tweet’s use of “we” was “personal but obfuscating.” Speaking more broadly about the tone of this kind of corporate social media, she continued: “Those accounts aren’t just plentiful iterations of the Netflix brand set loose on social media. They produce voice-driven, often humorous, personal-seeming content that mimics the way real people speak to one another online.”
It seems that in the short time since that show’s cancellation, Netflix’s social media strategy has doubled down on its human masquerade, launching identity-based accounts like @StrongBlackLead and @Most, which engages with an LGBTQA+ audience. These accounts use the language of popular meme formats and don’t distinguish between a “human” voice and a marketing one; they are one and the same, with the goal of appealing to specific audiences and gaining their trust.
These Netflix accounts don’t distinguish between a “human” voice and a marketing one.
On October 5, Dave Chappelle’s new special, The Closer, dropped on Netflix. In the special, the comedian allies himself with “Team TERF” (trans-exclusionary feminists). Immediately, both Chapelle and Netflix began receiving criticism on Twitter and wider social media for being transphobic; LGBTQ advocacy and rights organizations such as GLAAD also decried the special. On October 6, Dear White People showrunner Jaclyn Moore expressed her hurt and frustration with the special and announced her decision to no longer work with Netflix. Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos has proffered an unsettling defense, arguing “we have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.”
Soon, transgender staffers at Netflix began to speak up. Senior Software Engineer Terra Field articulated in a thread exactly why the comments in Chappelle’s special were harmful to queer and trans people. Shortly after, Field and two other trans staffers were suspended for trying to attend a meeting concerning the company’s business review; Field was reinstated on Tuesday. On Friday, The Verge reported, Netflix fired a Black trans employee who was organizing an October 20 walkout, citing that the employee had leaked internal metrics to the media.
I commend the LGBTQ+ employees at Netflix who have spoken out about how Chapelle’s show, and Netflix’s reaction, impacts them and their livelihoods. For a company that seems to pride itself on “radical transparency,” I can't imagine the resilience it takes to demand accountability from a workplace behemoth like Netflix, especially one that has banked on its supposed representational politics.
On October 13, Netflix’s LGBTQ+ social channel, @Most, offered words of wisdom in a thread that began: “this week fucking sucks.” @Most is usually the purveyor of memes and promotional material about the Netflix catalog, frequently done in the extremely online, overfamiliar timbre that has become the go-to tone for corporate accounts (On the Black Mirror episode “San Junipero:” “you’re in her DMs. i’m in the afterlife simulation taking her to the club and kissing her in the rain”) It's cutesy and gendered, and its alleged horniness — and, frankly, sense of queerness — is sheathed in an executive-approved sheen.
The account’s institutional voice is an emblem of the ways corporate entities want to mimic personhood. @Most is responsive and snarky in the way that an amorphous, unintelligibly “gay person” would be online. It’s intentionally hermetic, and only conceives of queerness within the confines of Netflix’s library and licenses. There’s little telling what this account, if it were a person, would actually be interested in. It’s designed to like everything and treat all content equally, but it’s also progressive because it’s queer, you see?
The @Most account has been silent for most of the week, understandably. But it broke its silence with a thread that was consistent with its tone. It acknowledged that queer and trans people run the account, and that despite their lack of control over actual Netflix entities, they control “what we create on here and the POV we bring to internal conversations.” Additionally, they will “continue advocating for bigger and better queer representation.” And finally, “ok you can go back to yelling at us now.”
I’m aware that queer and trans people run the @Most account. But there’s a frustrating disconnect between arguing for a kind of po-faced “bigger and better representation,” as opposed to recognizing the systematic and institutional issues at hand. It’s something that I don’t think “bigger and better representation” will solve, so much as a sharper labor analysis. The thread is less of a PR statement than a way to maintain brand security. It has a lack of political perspective, with no scope beyond “representation”— a corporate Twitter account in the drag of real marginality.
Although these words are harsh, they are not directed at the people who run the account. They are directed at the corporation that puts its employees in such a bind.
Social media management is often done by young people who are both the most adept generation on the internet and one of the most vulnerable in the job market. The job then requires those workers to devote a primary facet of their voices on the Internet to a corporation. It leaves little wiggle room for authentic self-expression, essentially forcing employees to commodify their identities for a corporation.
@Most’s response to the past week has revealed a snag in the ethos behind representation-forward social channels. It was predicated on artificial intimacy in a space where, frankly, all performed intimacy has a whiff of artifice. But when it comes to things that actually impact marginalized people’s lives, it cannot unstick itself from the prescribed rules set by a marketing team or the corporation that employs it.
This Twitter account could have interrogated the ways social media platforms can challenge and question how identity functions online. Instead, @Most was caught in the middle, performing dissapointment without being able to sincerely convey it.