This piece by Rob Horning is good and you should read it. I also liked Horning’s condensation of his concept of the “postauthentic" self:
The viral self is “postauthentic” in that it finds the truth of itself in ex post facto metrics rather than fidelity to some pre-existing ethic or value system. Its “authenticity” is an after-effect of having marshaled an audience that values the content it circulates. Being true to some unchanging interior spirit, being consistent despite the demands of an audience watching — these are not such relevant concerns anymore.
Horning is critical of this shift because it situates the agency for determining this authenticity in social media, and thus in the corporations that control its structure and data. This is a good thing to keep in mind. But I think that this makes it less a shift in authority than a shift in visibility. The “pre-existing ethic or value system” that determined authenticity before was also established by those with power, but its workings were far less visible. Now the notion of what’s “authentic” is at least up for public debate, and while certainly Facebook and Google have a much louder voice in that debate than any private citizen (and certainly the methods by which they exert that authority are still very much cloaked in naturalism), it seems a positive development that the debate is taking place.
"Authenticity" was an overriding concern for early-00s music critics, and while the concern there was how to judge art rather than how to judge the self, the standards are essentially the same; YouTube videos now get news attention not because they are inherently interesting but because they have a large number of views. The takeaway about authenticity I got from that decade-ago discussion was that, while authenticity is bad when it’s fixed on a common and unquestioned set of standards, it can be a tremendously useful way to judge things. And so critics, rather than accepting predetermined standards of authenticity, should construct their own ideas of what’s authentic based in their particular values and tastes at any given moment. Authenticity shouldn’t be internal and fixed, it should be externalized and fluid. It’s the best way to ensure that “authentic” doesn’t come to be synonymous with “the shit old white dudes think is important.”
Social media, stretching back as far as discussion boards, opened up a space for a cornucopia of ideas about authenticity to coexist, and that’s good, even if we should perhaps have more self-confidence to decide which are true. What’s frustrating, I think, isn’t the cornucopia but the fact that some voices are trying to reduce those multiple (and conflicting) standards into a canonical singularity. The voices that dominate discourse online want to redefine authenticity in terms of their values: open, meritocratic, rational and objective, validated by success. They want to make “authentic” mean “good by internet standards,” and to make us think that this connection is so obvious (“of course crowdsourced things are better!”) that it’s not worth arguing about. The problem with postauthenticity, in other words, isn’t that “authenticity” will become disconnected from any values. It’s that we won’t be able to see the values it’s connected to.