Is Klout enabling a new kind of democracy where a new era of entitlement and access is established, based on a revised set of principles for how authority is earned? Many will argue it is, but look a little deeper and Klout is further contributing to a hierarchised society. The lines between the privileged and disadvantaged may look a little different, but they are still as evident as before, if not more so.
On the surface, we think of Klout as purely a way of ranking our online popularity, but we don't think about the implications of this. What individuals and organizations are doing with this new ranking system that pits people against each other based on their 'influence' online isnt' always obvious.
One example presents a worrying vision for a democratic and equal society. American Airlines has recently introduced an initiative where it will grant passengers access to the business lounge if they have a Klout score of 55 plus. You don't even have to be flying American to use it.
(Image via American Airlines)
But why pick this as an indicator of whether certain people deserve access on a different level, or should be granted special treatment above others? The reality is that you have a high Klout score, you are likely going to be fairly established within an industry (i.e. have a good job), be well-connected and have a constant access to technology that will enable you to undertake activities that contribute to this score.
You'll probably tweet frequently, blog or be popular and highly active in social networks. Surely that's a fairly privileged position to be in already so why is it acceptable for organisations to give this already advantaged group of people special treatment because of this fact?
What about the people in lower level positions in their jobs, or those that don't have the physical access to technologies that enable them to contribute heavily online, or the luxury of time to afford them this? What if they're a hardworking single parent whose time or budget doesn't allow them this privilege?
It feels rather nice if you're in this group, but from the outside it looks unjust and divisive. And ironically, if you're outside this privileged circle, the chances are you would need these type of privileges even more.
The Great Divide
The digital divide is already increasing at a worrying pace. We have a growing gap between those people that get to use technology and the internet frequently - and know how to use it to their advantage - and those that don't. It's steadily developing into an irreversible chasm and initiatives such as this by American Airlines fuels that.
You might argue that social technology is a great leveler, that it allows everyone access to a platform to communicate and publish their opinions, and has troubled the established status quo of a media hierarchy, perhaps no more evident than in the crumbling of the newspaper industry. It has done all of these things, but that doesn't mean that special treatment of one individual over another is justified. It accelerates a divide in society that doesn't need to exist.
We are used to societal divisions, they are hardly a new concept, but they are generally brought about by unavoidable factors such as the education you can access in your locality, your gender, or circumstances you happen to be born into. But we have also worked hard to establish politically democratic societies, where something such as a vote or access to health care (in the UK at least) is a basic right that everyone is entitled to. Class systems already exist that do enough damage to the disentitled, so why introduce a further divisive factor?
Of course, it may seem a little extreme to judge a business lounge initiative of American Airlines as a threat to democracy. Yet it is a worrying indicator of a wider trend where those in the digital 'know' are ultimately better off than those that aren't. If using the internet, smartphones and social media isn't a part of your day-to-day job, you simply can't be as advanced as those who are in this position.
Time and time again, we see 'epic fails' where someone shares something on social media with the wrong audience. We get a laugh and people bemoan how stupid they are, and ask: 'Don't they get the whole world can see it?' No, obviously not or they wouldn't have done it in the first place. They're not stupid, they're just not as advanced as you in a technology that outpaces our understanding of it.
So what use then is a social tool that not only aims to rank us and place us in an order that we don't need to be in, but that actually begins to infiltrate everyday life to alter the reality of those that are at the top, and those that are at the bottom?
And as for those that aren't even ranked at all? It seems they are being left out of this privileged, connected world entirely.