Just as the rhetoric about market competition informs the design of platforms, the project hypothesizes that the associated neoliberal rhetoric of “rational choice,” “human capital,” and “entrepreneurialism,” creates functional incentives for users to participate on social media. These incentives are learned through the cultural and institutional structures of neoliberal society, including new regimes of austerity, precarious labour, and the debt economy. This part of the study looks at how neoliberal rhetoric about rational choice, human capital, and entrepreneurialism shapes users’ participation on mainstream social media websites.

Much of the literature in critical social media research has adopted the concept of the “prosumer” (a confluence of producer and consumer) to explain how users are exploited by social media sites, which profit from the content they produce and the data that they inscribe freely into the database. Departing somewhat from this argument, I propose using a new prism for looking at users, focusing on the purposive ways that they approach social media through the idea of “reputation management.” In part, this has meant incorporating neoliberal incentives to self-brand in the interest of helping to secure better professional and career outcomes, such as increasing one’s job prospects and receiving higher incomes. The logic of online reputation management has also been associated with the conception of “identity curation.” I take the figures of the entrepreneur and the curator as exemplary of overlapping characterizations of the social media user.

I examine discourses about social media use focusing particularly on how the figures of the entrepreneur and the curator are employed in the meaningful construction of neoliberal identity.

But the entrepreneur and the curator are only two arguably equivalent ways of conceptualizing users on social media, which aim to attract attention. Other new figures, like the “troll” – or the online bully – also shed a light on new practices of subversion in the neoliberal attention economy. These are figures that develop reputation based on tarnishing the reputation of other users.

How do these three figures of the entrepreneur, the curator, and the troll model behaviour and identity in contemporary neoliberal society focused on attention and reputation?